Nine Republican candidates debated in Orlando, Florida on Thursday at a debate sponsored by FOX News and Google. Businessman Herman Cain re-introduced himself to America and was substantive, inspirational, and personable, and his stock improved more than any other candidate’s after the debate. Texas Gov. Rick Perry had a night he will want to forget (if he has not already) while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney remained composed and steady and did nothing to hurt his stock as the default candidate of choice among Republicans. Here are 10 questions that emerged from the debate.
1. Will Perry’s poor performance hurt him?
Perry lost momentum as the night went on. After effectively sparring with Romney in the early parts of the debate on Social Security, Perry bumbled answers on foreign policy and missed opportunities to tag Romney as a flip-flopper.
When he said that it was heartless for people to be against giving illegal immigrants in-state tuition rates, Perry was resoundingly booed by the audience. His signing the Texas DREAM Act will be a problem for him down the road.
Perry also insinuated that a cancer victim influenced his decision to sign an executive order mandating young Texan females to get vaccinated against HPV. According to an ABC News report, though, Perry met the cancer patient in question after he had already signed the executive order, which the Texas legislature eventually overturned.
If Perry wins the Presidency 5 Straw Poll in Florida this weekend, it will blunt some of the bad press that is sure to come his way. But Perry’s vulnerabilities will remain unless he finds a way to transform himself into a better candidate.
Even with Perry’s poor performance, he seems to be the lead anti-Romney candidate.
2. Can Herman Cain start gaining momentum?
If Perry keeps faltering and voters do not warm to Romney, could Herman Cain become a viable contender? His positive intensity score, as measured by Gallup, remains at the head of the field despite his name recognition registering below those of the front-runners. His “9-9-9” economic plan is catching on, as is his inspirational life story. Cain survived cancer, pulled himself up from his humble roots, and turned around franchises many thought would fail. Further, Cain combines substance with flair while mixing in a host of anecdotes that illustrate broader points he tries to make. For instance, he will tell the story of speaking to children at a lemonade stand and teasing them if they had the proper permits to make the broader point about excessive government regulation in the private sector, of which he was a part–unlike President Obama. Or he will electrify audiences by telling the story of his grandfather who took bumpy roads to bring potatoes from the farm to the market so that the big potatoes would rise to the top to illustrate the point that changing the culture in Washington will not be easy, but could be done with his practical experience in the private sector.
If given time to tell his story and offer his solutions, Cain has all the ingredients to catch fire, and that is why he is perhaps the most undervalued out of all the candidates at this time. It will be interesting to see if voters who intensely like him view him as “presidential” enough to flock to his side.
3. Will voters vote for Romney or consider him a default, “lesser of all evils” choice?
Romney was polished and poised. He attacked Perry on the Texas Dream Act and looked relaxed in doing so. But will people enthusiastically vote for Romney or vote for him because he is the default candidate? The answer to that question may determine Romney’s fate in the nominating process.
4. How much of an impact will immigration have?
Immigration was the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to conservatives and their tolerance for George W. Bush. It is the issue that nearly destroyed the John McCain campaign in 2008. With Arizona having a prominent role in the nominating season, how big of a role will immigration play this cycle?
5. Will Sarah Palin enter the field?
Palin may be more confident in her chances to win the nomination after Perry’s stumbles and Romney’s longstanding vulnerabilities.
6. Can Ron Paul and Rick Santorum get out of neutral?
Paul’s base of libertarian leaning supporters love him. But can he expand his coalition? Santorum is aiming to be to this field what Mike Huckabee was in 2008–the social conservative who gains traction in Iowa. Will multiple strong debate performances give Santorum some needed fuel?
7. Can Jon Huntsman appeal to Republicans outside of New Hampshire?
Huntsman has surged in New Hampshire, as two different polls have shown him in double digits. But can he win Republicans outside of New Hampshire in this red meat cycle?
8. Can Newt Gingrich revive his campaign?
Gingrich will be introducing a new ‘Contract with America’ next Thursday in Iowa. He’s been the Republican united and team captain during these debates. Can the “ideas man” gain enough traction to run the unconventional and national campaign he seems intent on running?
9. Is Michele Bachmann on the ropes?
Bachmann did not resonate or cut through at all in this debate. Her former campaign manager is trashing her in the press. She has plunged in nearly every poll taken after her win at the Ames Straw Poll. Can she remain viable in Iowa to buy her time to rebound and get her campaign back on track?
10. Even FOX News didn’t challenge Obama. Will Obama ever get dinged in a GOP debate?
Will moderators allow the GOP candidates to criticize Obama for Solyndra, the “green jobs” scandal in which the Obama administration rushed loans to a solar panel company that has now gone bankrupt, and not to mention a host of other domestic and foreign mishaps and problems? This will enable the viewers to better learn about Obama’s crony capitalism and incoherent foreign policy strategy. So far, not even the purportedly conservative FOX News moderators allowed the GOP candidates to devote considerable time to indict Obama and his administration for its failures.