Actually, the race just got started Thursday night in Greenville, S.C.
While the first Republican presidential debate had all the feel of a spring football game -- with mostly underclassmen and few keeping score -- several candidates made big headway.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum probably won on points, with a firm and sometimes bristling performance -- and a game plan that no one would pass him on the right.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a solid, articulate and whip-smart likeable guy who suffers from possibly being "too nice," as one media outlet put it, failed to score his breakout moment. But he undoubtedly carved out a place at the big candidates' table.
Businessman and former U.S. senatorial candidate from Georgia Herman Cain, on the other hand, "sent shockwaves across the conservative end of the political spectrum with his performance," wrote the liberal Huffington Post website. Indeed, Republican pollster Frank Luntz's focus group on Fox News was utterly wild about Cain afterward.
"I have never had this kind of reaction until tonight," Luntz reported. "Something very special happened this evening."
South Carolinians, we were reminded often Thursday night, will likely hold a grudge against the other potential candidates who skipped the event. They will have to work overtime to win back the most attentive Carolina conservatives.
But the more ominous takeaway from Thursday's debate was the almost palpable fervor in the crowd for a new brand of hope and change.
They don't think the election is over. Far from it; they simply can't wait for the opportunity to fire Barack Obama. All that remains is to decide who will do it.
It's not racial; Herman Cain is black, and won over a lot of voters Thursday. Nor is it personal. South Carolina voters, as well as many others across the country, are focused like a laser on this administration's policies. From the health-care takeover to the unprecedented overspending to the overbearing bureaucracy -- the administration is currently trying to prevent Boeing from building a plant in South Carolina because of its right-to-work labor laws -- these folks are simply fed up.
Bin Laden's demise hasn't changed that a bit.
Right now, there isn't anything close to a Republican frontrunner, and there's still a sense that perhaps the party's deus ex machina hasn't yet arrived on stage. Greenville only served to muddle things. That's fine; that's the tortured beauty of a free republic.
But at some point, the majority of Americans unhappy with the direction of the country need to see some movement in the GOP -- some sign that the party won't blow this opportunity to defeat a president with a still-reeling economy (unemployment back up to 9 percent) and no pro-jobs policies to speak of. This president appears ideologically opposed to doing what's necessary to get the private economy growing again.
That's a problem the Navy SEALs are unable to help the president with.