Finally! A Debate
Wednesday February 22, 2012
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The debate in Mesa, Arizona tonight will be, I believe the 21st in the series this Presidential election cycle.
Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich will share the stage for the first time in 27 days since the last debate in Florida and six days before important primaries in Michigan and Arizona next Tuesday.
As CNN's Candy Crowley pointed out yesterday,
"The final four have not shared a stage in almost a month: Not since Romney won Florida, Nevada and Maine. Not since Santorum triumphed in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado."
Gingrich has not won since South Carolina but, ever confident, Newt recently said "I have been front-runner twice. I suspect I'll be the front-runner again in a few weeks."
Ron Paul has yet to win a contest, but he has been remarkably consistent in his national support (averaging about 11 percent) and has done well in the caucus states - as he said he would - and has collected, according to the New York Times' count, 18 delegates so far.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Newt Gingrich's home town paper reminded us that these debates have had a real impact on the ebb and flow of the race generally and on candidates' fortunes in particular.
I had forgotten about the debate in Manchester, NH on June 13, 2011. The morning previous Tim Pawlenty had coined the term "Romneycare" in a local TV interview, but refused to repeat the term with Romney standing a few feet away. Pawlenty never got over the "wimp" tag and ended up dropping out of the race after coming in a distant third to Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul in the Iowa Straw Poll two months later.
No one has forgotten - nor will forget so long as there are political debates - Rick Perry's "Oops" moment in Rochester, Michigan on November 9. It wasn't the only poor debate performance for Perry but it cemented in many voters' mind his inability to go toe-to-toe with his rivals.
Newt Gingrich's two brilliant debate performances in South Carolina were as important as Sheldon Adelson's $10 million in turning his fortunes around and leading to his nearly 13 percentage point victory over Mitt Romney.
A week later, barely lackluster showings by Gingrich in the two Florida debates halted his second surge and Romney returned the favor, beating him by 14 percentage points.
That second Florida debate was also the coming out party for Santorum. He jumped on Romney about the health care law in Massachusetts and Santorum showed debating skills by verbally backing Romney into a verbal corner leading to his going three-for-three in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado a couple of weeks later.
This is the first debate which will not be aimed at just one state. The four will be playing, simultaneously, to audiences in Phoenix and in Dearborn.
Romney and Santorum are essentially tied in both Arizona and Michigan.
The RealClearPolitics average in Michigan has Santorum leading Romney by about a point-and-a-half at 33.5 to 32. Paul is in third averaging 11 percent and Gingrich trails with 9.5.
In Arizona, Romney is leading in all four of the current polls but the CNN's survey released yesterday afternoon has the race down to a four point lead for Romney 36-32. Gingrich is at 18 percent in that poll and Paul trails with six percent of respondents.
Over the past week Santorum has re-emphasized his social positions - likely due to his belief that his win in Colorado was due to a surge in Republican base turnout on the news of the Contraception Decision from HHS a few days before.
Gingrich's campaign appears to be back on life support. He will need all of his considerable debate-as-performance-art talents to climb back into this prior to Super Tuesday on March 6.
John King will be moderating the CNN-sponsored debate and he has been provided some of Gingrich's best applause lines over these many months.
Romney will be attacked by Gingrich and Santorum on everything from the oft-told health care story to his handling of the Salt Lake City Olympics. He has shown a tendency to get rattled under a barrage and he needs to show he can handle the double team.
Ron Paul will do his Ron Paul act which is always interesting and rarely determinative.
After tonight, there will be no debates prior to Super Tuesday, so this one will have to do for a while.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to Candy Crowley's CNN piece, to the NYT delegate count and to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Also a Mullfoto from the parking lot of the Giant supermarket in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia and a pretty good Catchy Caption of the Day.
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