Republican Candidates Hit Each Other Where It Hurts

While fending off another verbal attack from Sen. John McCain on his abortion and stem cell record, the campaign Gov. Mitt Romney took time out to issue a press release announcing he would participate in the August 5 Iowa debate. The statement read: “Governor Romney strongly believes in providing the Republican voters every opportunity to listen to their Party’s presidential candidates and their visions for our future.  We are committed to Iowa and are pleased to be a part of the ABC News debate in Des Moines.  We look forward to more debates in the future.”   

The announcement followed Rudy’s Giuliani’s acceptance of the debate invitation. His campaign manager informed ABC News: “Mayor Giuliani is committed to providing voters with as much information as possible in order for them to evaluate their next president and he strongly believes that debates are an important part of the electoral process.” Sen. McCain’s campaign (as of the time of this posting) had not indicated if he would participate.

The timing was noteworthy. On Tuesday night Fred Thompson appeared on the "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno and  declared: “"I get some benefit for not having, you know, been one of the, you know, 10 people, you know, standing, sitting there, standing there, in those debates and raising your hand and all the other things that kind of denigrate the office of the job.”

The Giuliani and Romney camps see an opening to make a point. Their candidates already have gone to the voters, answered questions from debate moderators and audience members and are in fighting form. They seem eager to emphasize their candidates’ readiness to fight for the nomination and be tested before the voters. They would no doubt pounce and accuse Thompson of “ducking” the debate should he not show.

If Thompson does participate, the Romney team is confident their candidate will compare favorably. Kevin Madden, Romney’s press secretary, agrees that debates do challenge the candidates, wryly observing, “The format is very challenging.  Trying to sum up an issue as complex as the War on Terror in one minute is not exactly the ideal amount of time to explain a position.” He is quick to note that his candidate has plenty of practice, noting: “We’ve done 10 ‘Ask Mitt Anything’ town hall events (with three more scheduled for this weekend) dozens of community meetings/candidate forums Q and A sessions, and about 6 tele-town halls.”

Debates and the spontaneous interchange between candidates with voters at well attended town halls in the early primary states are important proving grounds for presidential candidates. The Giuliani camp notes that debates are “important to the process voters are able to see the candidates answer questions on the tough issues. Mayor Giuliani welcomes the opportunity to do so in debates and town halls.”

In appearances on "Hannity and Colmes" and Larry Kudlow, Thompson was jovial and relaxed but unprepared to offer answers to basic questions like his tax proposal.  His opponents obviously intend to put his feet to the fire to test whether Thompson lives up to his media buzz and strong poll numbers.