Posted by on September 07, 2011 in Blog

By Frank Matt

This evening, NBC and Politico will be hosting a debate for the Republican presidential candidates at the Reagan Library. Though the Iowa and New Hampshire debates were largely unremarkable as the candidates seemed more concerned with avoiding missteps than gunning for their rivals, this dynamic may well change tonight as each candidate’s campaign has become noticeably more intense and outspoken. Here are some potential highlights to watch for in tonight’s debate:

  • Mitt Romney’s debate strategy so far could be described as “safe,” as he has made no serious errors but also was not particularly aggressive. Such a strategy, however, is the luxury of the front runner and is likely to change now that Romney has lost his frontrunner status to Rick Perry.
  • Michelle Bachmann (R-MN)has seemingly lost all momentum in the polls following her Iowa straw poll victory. Congresswoman Bachmann also recently experienced a Gingrich-esque exodus of campaign staff. Thus, Bachmann will be fighting the impression tonight that her campaign is floundering.
  • Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney have both recently revealed their plans for job creation. Both candidates are likely to draw attention to these plans at every turn, as well as use them to distinguish themselves from their opponents.
  • Jon Huntsman’s campaign has taken on a more animated tone, with colorful tweets and charges that his opponents are too extreme. It will be interesting to see whether Huntsman brings this new approach to the debate stage, and whether it will gain him any more attention.

All eyes, however, will be on Rick Perry, whose appearance in the debate tonight is a story unto itself. Perry is now the clear frontrunner, but his status is precarious as Perry has yet to prove he can withstand direct and on-camera questioning about his stances and statements. Perry has also shown a propensity for making off-the-cuff remarks and gaffes, which are harder to brush aside in a debate environment. He will likely have to answer for statements calling social security a “Ponzi Scheme” and accusing Ben Bernanke of treason. The Texas Governor is also likely to be a target for attacks from other candidates. His back-and-forth with fellow Texan Ron Paul (R-TX) has already reached near-feud levels, and his relationship with Mitt Romney is reported to be less than cordial.

While the candidates have debated each other before, tonight’s debate is the first in which the candidates’ intensity and sense of urgency has been palpable. The candidates could make or break their chance to secure the nomination this evening, but whatever the effect on their political fortunes, they are likely to put on quite a show.

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