LAS VEGAS, NEVADA — Seven Republican candidates will debate in Las Vegas tonight, which will air on CNN at 8 p.m. E.T. Here are seven pre-game questions worth thinking about before the the seven candidates (Jon Huntsman will be absent and will instead host a town hall in New Hampshire because he is boycotting Nevada for threatening New Hampshire’s “first-in-the-nation” primary status).
1. How will Herman Cain handle his front-runner status?
He will be questioned on everything from foreign policy, whether his call for a fence on the border that would electrocute those who touch it, and about his organization in the early states. Will Cain weather the storm? He just might given the format of the debate, as the number of candidates on stage and the time constraints do not allow candidates to be scrutinized as extensively as they would be if there were fewer people on stage. On the other hand, the limited amount of time candidates get to answer questions and explain their positions may make it more difficult for Cain to give substantive explanations in soundbites, and he may therefore come off to the casual viewer of not having substantive explanations. When given time to elaborate on the questions asked of him, Cain does well.
2. Will Romney treat Cain as a friend or foe?
Will Romney attack Cain? If he does, it may indicate that he is beginning to see Cain as a threat.
3. Can Perry get his candidacy back in gear?
He enters the debate with lowered expectations, can he start his comeback in Vegas?
4. Can Gingrich become the next anti-Romney candidate?
If Cain falters, can Gingrich fill the vacuum?
5. Will issues specific to Nevada come up, or will it be a national debate that just happens to take place in Nevada?
Will moderators discuss the housing and foreclosure crisis and immigration issues? Both issues may present problems to Cain given he incorrectly forecast the housing crisis and has gone back and forth about whether his comments about a fence that would electrocute anyone who touches it was a joke or a serious policy proposal.
6. Will Rick Santorum and Ron Paul be given time to talk about the issues that matter to them and get traction?
Santorum appeals to social conservatives in a way that Paul appeals to libertarian minded voters. Both need to broaden their appeal to a broader cross section of primary voters. This debate offers them yet another chance to do so, if they can elbow their way into a conversation that may not always include them.
7. Will the moderators question the candidates about Solyndra, Fast and Furious, and other Obama administration scandals?
Will the Republican candidates finally get an opportunity to eviscerate President Obama on some of his monumental failings or will the moderators continue to frame questions in a way that allows Obama to go relatively unscathed.
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