Des Moines—Eight Republican candidates face off tonight in the most important campaign event of the 2012 GOP presidential nomination campaign so far — a Fox News Channel debate two days before the Ames Iowa Straw Poll.The Iowa Straw Poll is an important test of organizational strength and has been a fairly good indicator in the past of how Republicans will vote in the first-in-the-nation caucuses early next year.
Tonight’s debate will pit all but two of the GOP presidential candidates against each other, at a critical juncture.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman need strong performances tonight to revive their flagging campaigns. Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are the front-runners and will likely come under concerted attack from the other six candidates. (Click here for our candidate-by-candidate breakdown of what to expect tonight.)
After last month’s drama over raising the debt limit and cutting the deficit, expect fiscal and national/global economic issues to play a big role in tonight’s debate. The candidates’ stances on social issues will also be probed for the benefit of the state’s socially conservative GOP electorate.
So far, televised debates have played a significant role in the 2012 GOP presidential race. After a strong showing at the South Carolina debate, Herman Cain momentarily jumped in the polls. Following her boffo performance at the New Hampshire debate, Michele Bachmann vaulted to the top of the polls in Iowa, a position she has maintained and strengthened by campaigning hard in the state.
Missing from the debate (and the Straw Poll) are former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Palin will restart her bus tour in Iowa tomorrow and will visit the Iowa State Fair (to which the Straw Poll is attached at the hip), but is not on the Saturday’s ballot. She remains coy about whether she will run.
Perry will declare his candidacy soon, perhaps this weekend at an event on Saturday in South Carolina. He will be in Iowa on Sunday night to speak at a fundraiser.
We’ll be live-blogging the debate tonight and providing “post-game analysis.” Zeke Miller will be in Iowa through the weekend, providing live coverage of the last minute campaigning and the Straw Poll.
Tonight’s debate starts at 8 p.m. Des Moines time, 9 p.m. ET, and will be broadcast live on Fox News Channel.