The Republican presidential candidates will face off for the second time in as many weeks, participating in the CNN/Tea Party Express debate in Florida tonight.
After a heated and exciting meeting last week that saw the top-tier narrow to just former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, tonight’s event is poised to be equally significant.
- Social Security in the spotlight: Perry doubled down on his criticism of the entitlement program last week, calling it a Ponzi scheme on national television. Romney, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman are readying to hit him hard on the subject tonight.
- Can Michele Bachmann stay relevant: Bachmann was largely absent from Wednesday’s debate and has dropped to new lows in the polls. If she wants to stay in the race in any meaningful way she has to land a few blows on Perry.
- Will Jon Huntsman repeat: Huntsman made waves in the last debate in a breakout performance, criticising Perry and Romney effectively. His election strategy — being the last electable candidate standing — is not translating into poll support. He needs to have an equally significant performance tonight if he wants to stay in this race.
- Ron Paul vs. Rick Perry: The two candidates just don’t get along. Paul succeeded in forcing Perry to engage the rest of the field in the last debate — making him appear less of a front-runner. If he continues, Perry may start wondering whether Perry is just the next fad.
- The Tea Party: This is an unusual debate in that it’s being co-sponsored by a tea party group, with supporters of the movement making up the audience. This constituency probably helps Bachmann, Paul and Perry the most, and gives the rest yet another opponent — an unfriendly crowd.
- Solyndra: Republicans ramping up their criticism of the Obama administration over a controversial loan to the solar company that later went bankrupt. The FBI raided the company’s offices last week, and this is starting to look like it has the potential to be the Obama administration’s first major scandal.
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