New Hampshire Debate: What To Look For

Seven 2012 GOP presidential candidates will debate on Monday in New Hampshire at Saint Anselm College. The debate, sponsored by CNN, WMUR, and the New Hampshire Union Leader, will be where Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann will make their first debate appearances in 2012. CNN will air the debate live from 8-10 p.m. eastern time.

Here is what to look for for those who will be on the stage, and a couple of candidates whose lack of a presence may also make some headlines.

Mitt Romney: Even though it is very early in the nominating process, a Washington Post/ABC News poll last week showing that he is the front-runner among Republicans and beats President Obama in a one on one match-up makes Romney the frontrunner. Two separate polls, conducted by CNN and Gallup, respectively, show Romney as the frontrunner. It will be interesting how he debates in the pole position and how he answers questions and attacks on RomneyCare that he’ll inevitably be hit with. Will Romney stay above the fray as if he is proverbially running out the clock, or will he give off the impression of an underdog who is not taking the nomination for granted and mix it up with the other candidates and the panelists?

Newt Gingrich: In most cases, it would be a stretch to say a candidate actually has something riding on a debate this early. In Gingrich’s case, it is not a stretch at alll. His campaign roll out has been abysmal, lost many of his top campaign aides who resigned last week, and he has he has drawn the ridicule of the mainstream media and of conservatives for his various gaffes and misstatements. He opted to skip the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference to go on a cruise, which seemed to be the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

Hopefully, Gingrich was able to recharge his batteries — and state of mind — on the cruise because a reset and recharge are exactly what his flailing campaign needs.

Gingrich’s strength will be at these debates. He will be more than formidable presenting his ideas to various public policy problems. To be a viable candidate at future — and more important debates — Gingrich may have to have one of his better performances at this debate. One more flop or gaffe prone performance on a national stage may end up pulling the plug on a  campaign that seems to be on life support.

Tim Pawlenty: Pawlenty has has rolled out many bold and substantive policy proposals. He told Iowans he wanted to end ethanol subsidies. He told Wall Street the financial sector still needed reforms. He’s proposed a “Google Test:”

“If you can find a good or service on the Internet, then the federal government probably doesn’t need to be doing it,” Pawlenty said last week in Chicago. Yesterday, he went on the attack against Romney, linking Romney and Obama with the “ObamneyCare” formulation in reference to Obama’s health care plan modelled after Romney’s Massachusetts plan.

Pawlenty’s challenge will be convincing voters that he has the toughness to take on President Obama. In a cycle with a duller Democrat in the White House or when neither party has an incumbent, Pawlenty may well have had an easier path to the nomination. He must convince people that he can match up mano a mano with Obama.

Herman Cain: While Cain’s name identification numbers are not as high as those of the other candidates, Cain’s positive intensity score, according to Gallup, has consistently led the field of candidates. To put it simply, so far in this cycle, when voters listen to Cain’s message and become familiar with him, they end up liking him.

Though he has been getting some more national profiles as a result of his improving poll numbers, Cain will get another chance on a national stage to introduce himself to voters, just as he successfully did during the last debate in South Carolina, which was sponsored and televised by Fox News.

Look for Cain to cite his successful business background in which he revived companies people thought could not be turned around. When confronted about his lack of governing experience, Cain usually asks “how’s that working out for you,” in speaking of politicians with tons of experience in government. Cain also likes to wonder if he is a racist for opposing President Obama, poking fun at the leftist meme that those associated with the Tea Party movement are racist.

In an anti-establishment cycle with candidates that come across as a tad stale, Cain has another opportunity to further make a good first impression on potential GOP primary voters in New Hampshire and across the nation.

Recently, Cain has flubbed answers to questions regarding Israel and on the incorporation issue dealing with the second amendment, he will have to avoid such gaffes going further and present a more polished image

Ron Paul:  Paul had a fervent following in New Hampshire as he did in many states during the 2008 cycle. His fiscal conservatism — and perhaps even is anti-interventionist stances that some call isolationism — may play well with Granite State voters.

Rick Santorum: Santorum formally announced his candidacy last week, but his staunch social conservatism may not sell as well in New Hampshire as it does in South Carolina or Iowa. Santorum needs all the publicity he gets, so he may just use the forum to speak to voters in those states.

Michele Bachmann: She has hired famed political strategist Ed Rollins, who promptly attacked Sarah Palin and caused a brouhaha, and has consultants regarded as being great debate coaches. It will be interesting to see how she interacts with Romney. Will she attack him for Romneycare? Or will she stay above the fray and use the New Hampshire debate to talk to people in Iowa instead? Also, because of Bachmann’s many gaffes in the past, she has to be especially careful and poised because the mainstream media will be combing through every statement and moment of hers in the debate with a fine-tooth comb in an attempt to find gaffes with which to embarrass her.

Sarah Palin and Jon Huntsman: These two potential candidates who will not be at the debate could not be more different from each other. Huntsman is the darling of the mainstream media, Palin is certainly not. Huntsman is as urbane as Palin is Jacksonian. Yet, Palin’s absence will be noticed at any debate until she formally makes a decision about whether she will be a 2012 presidential candidate. And when Palin visited New Hampshire during the first leg of her bus tour, locals who interacted with her thought better of her after they had met her.

Huntsman, meanwhile, while lacking the national profile of Palin, has staked a claim in New Hampshire and is likely to try to follow the McCain playbook in trying to score a surprise upset in the Granite State. Huntsman has made a couple trips already to the important first in the nation primary state and, from many accounts, has shown considerable retail political skills and has seemed to be at ease among New Hampshire voters. Huntsman’s ceiling in the New Hampshire state seems to be high.

It also must be noted that in the new USA TODAY/Gallup poll, while only 30 percent of Romney’s supporters were committed to Romney a good 50% percent of Palin’s supporters said they were committed, representing the high and strong floor she has.

Rick Perry: With Gingrich’s campaign implosion, rumors are abounding that the Texan who has similar mannerisms as George W. Bush will enter the race. He’ll likely be received warmly later in the week at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. If the candidates on stage are not palatable to a majority of Republicans, the clamor for a Perry candidacy may intensify.

Editor’s note: Check back at HUMAN EVENTS tonight after the New Hampshire debate to vote on who you think won. We’ll also have our own rapid analysis. Fun times!