MANCHESTER, N.H. -- There were no time limits, formal rules or reporters asking questions.

And if you ask Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman, they would say there were no clear winners or losers last night in what was billed as a "Lincoln-Douglas" presidential debate modeled after the 1858 meetings of Illinois Senate candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.

In fact, after a 90-minute free-flowing discussion about foreign policy and national security, it was difficult to discern a single area where the Republican presidential contenders disagreed. What criticism surfaced was aimed at President Barack Obama and America's threats abroad.

Yet, Gingrich was absolutely thrilled. "This is what we should have a lot more of, because this is substantive," the former House speaker said. "This is not a Hollywood game. This is not a reality show. This is reality."

In some ways the format was a dream come true for Gingrich, a self-described historian and former college professor, whose intellect and willingness to challenge his rivals has aided a sudden rise in the polls.

But last night's forum, in which the candidates discussed broad topics such as Israel and China with only suggested time limits, gave Gingrich further freedom to showcase his knowledge, without facing difficult questions about his personal life and controversial policies.

It may serve as a preview of things to come should Gingrich win the GOP nomination.

Even before his rise in the polls, Gingrich had challenged Obama to a series of seven three-hour "Lincoln-Douglas" debates. And he reminds voters every chance he gets that he's willing and able to take on the president.

So eager is Gingrich that he all but called the president "a chicken" during a previous campaign stop yesterday morning. The Obama campaign declined to respond.

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