Iowa Debate, Straw Poll Will Set Stage for Fall Campaign
Michele Bachmann steps off her campaign bus in Humboldt, Iowa, ahead of Thursday night’s debate. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
There will be eight candidates seeking the 2012 Republican presidential nomination on the debate stage Thursday night in Ames, Iowa.
The most significant development in the presidential race since most of these competitors last squared off at a debate in New Hampshire in June has been President Obama’s weakened support among voters amid an unpopular debt deal, a sliding stock market and a persistently stubborn high unemployment rate.
That will once again set the stage for these candidates, one after the other, to bash President Obama’s leadership.
However, with only six months until the kickoff caucuses and primaries, this first Hawkeye State candidate exchange will also begin to show the policy and political cleavages that exist among the candidates.
Jon Huntsman, the former governor Utah, is poised to partake in his first presidential debate of the nomination season and will have to answer those famous Adm. James Stockdale questions: “Who am I? Why am I here?”
Two months into his campaign, Huntsman is still struggling to introduce himself to Republican primary voters and restore order to a campaign operation that became bereft by internal strife.
On the trail, Huntsman has begun to draw more direct and sharp contrasts with his opponents, specifically with front-runner Mitt Romney. His ability to bring those contrasts before the Fox News viewing audience will be carefully watched.
As for Romney, he’ll likely be wearing an even larger target than he did at the New Hampshire debate. His challenge will be to show a willingness to divert from his safe, above-the-fray strategy where he remains solely focused on President Obama and, instead, mix it up more directly with his fellow Republicans.
(Don’t miss the excellent Zeleny/Parker story in Thursday’s New York Times looking at Romney’s decision time in Iowa.)
Romney might also find himself answering some tough questions about a once-mystery donor who gave $1 million to a pro-Romney Super PAC and his use of tax hikes in Massachusetts as a selling point to S&P to obtain a credit rating upgrade when he was governor.
Ron Paul, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum are seeking to do no harm Thursday night and hope to capture more supporters to bus to the straw poll on Saturday. They’ve been working the state for the last several days and are seeking to avoid irrelevancy (see: Gingrich, Newt) with a poor showing at the straw poll.
The two candidates from neighboring Minnesota might have the most to gain and lose at the debate. Tim Pawlenty, the former governor, is in great need of a bolt of positive press after his polling and fundraising reports over the last month have seemed anything but robust. If Pawlenty can shake off his rough New Hampshire debate and spark a two to three wave of support that can carry him across the straw poll finish line in a significant fashion, it will be a very successful night.
Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann has continued to impress observers with her message discipline and her ability to connect emotionally and deeply with her supporters and potential supporters. She dominated the last debate with news of her formal entrance into the presidential race. Without such a headline grabbing gimmick up her sleeve this time, she’ll need to dazzle on raw talent if she hopes to keep her buzzy candidacy front and center.
Though Sarah Palin continues to remain silent about her 2012 intentions, she will rev up her “One Nation” bus tour again by rolling into the Iowa State Fair on Friday to soak up a lion’s share of media attention that might have otherwise gone to lesser known candidates one day prior to the straw poll.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry may be the ghost of Thursday’s debate. Now that it seems clear he’s about to jump into the race, following his early state swing to South Carolina, New Hampshire and Iowa this weekend, it’ll be fascinating to watch how his opponents treat him in absentia, which will likely tell us how much of an impact they expect him to have in reshaping the contours of the race.
The debate, sponsored by Fox News, the Washington Examiner and the Republican Party of Iowa, begins at 9 p.m. ET and runs for two hours on the Fox News Channel.
The country now knows nine of the 12 members of the special Congressional committee charged with finding more than a trillion dollars in federal deficit reduction over a decade and sending recommendations to Congress for a vote.
But as the political world waits for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to fill out the committee with three House Democrats, the makeup of the committee presents a big question: Is it even possible for the committee to reach a compromise?
A Gallup poll this week showed six in 10 Americans want the committee to compromise even if they disagree with the eventual outcome. But looking at the committee members, it already seems like there will be barriers to that outcome.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is a top Senate Democrat on the budget committee but also runs the campaign committee charged with keeping Democrats in control of the Senate. Her choice, while comforting to Democrats, reflects the reality that electoral politics will be part of the wrangling over the cuts and/or tax increases suggested by the committee. And as Democrats hope to campaign against Republicans as the party willing to cut Medicare, don’t expect them to agree to cuts to that program.
Speaking of taxes, every single Republican on the committee has signed Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, meaning increases in revenue could be totally off the table. And the inclusion of Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who is a Tea Party favorite, means that anti-spending faction will be well represented at the table.
Look for a full discussion of the committee members on the NewsHour after Rep. Pelosi makes her picks.
In the wake of the debt ceiling crisis and a faltering economic recovery that now features a tumultuous stock market, a new Washington Post poll adds more evidence that Americans are very, very unhappy with their government.
The Post’s Jon Cohen and Dan Balz write:
Nearly three-quarters of Americans polled said they have little or no confidence in Washington to repair the economy. Confidence is down 21Â percentage points from October 2010 and is less than half its 2002 levels. Roughly four in 10 have no confidence at all in the federal government when it comes to dealing with the economy, the poll indicates.
The number of people who expressed no confidence at all nearly doubled since October 2010. Almost half of independents said “none” when asked about their confidence, more than double the proportion saying so last fall.
This Post graphic from the poll also highlights that while both parties are taking blame, President Obama comes out slightly better than Congressional Republicans when poll respondents were asked who is making progress on major problems facing the country.
You can read the full poll here.
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