In Vegas, Stakes Are High as Republicans Set for Fifth Debate in Six Weeks

BY News Desk  October 18, 2011 at 8:41 AM EST

GOP Debate; photo by Melina Mara/Pool via Bloomberg via Getty Images

The 2012 Republican candidates will debate Tuesday night in Las Vegas. Photo by Melina Mara/Pool via Bloomberg/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Two new polls out Monday help demonstrate why the 2012 battle for the Republican nomination has thus far felt like a campaign of debates and little more.

From Pew’s Andy Kohut:

“According to the latest survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Oct. 13-16 among 1,007 adults, about a third (36%) of Republicans say they have watched a debate this year, which is comparable to the number that said this in July 2007 (38%).

“Three quarters of Republicans and Republican-leaning viewers say they have found the debates to be helpful in learning about the candidates (75%). Among those who say they agree with the Tea Party, 83% say the debates have been helpful. Fully half (51%) of Tea Party Republicans and Republican leaners say the debates have led them to reassess which candidate they might support.”

And according to a new CNN/Opinion Research poll, 67 percent of Republicans surveyed said it is possible they will change their mind about which candidate to support.

A significant slice of a volatile electorate paying close attention to these debates helps explain why these nationally televised candidate exchanges are high risk/high reward affairs.

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz talks with some of the smartest strategic minds in Republican politics about the seemingly more consequential role debates are playing this cycle.

“The most obvious evidence of the debates’ impact is the change in fortunes for Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He surged to the top of opinion polls after joining the race in August and has watched his support erode after several mediocre debate performances. Were it not for the forums, Perry might still be neck and neck with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Instead, he is in third place.

“In contrast, Romney, through a series of strong performances, has used the forums to solidify position and, more important, to try to convince the sizable number of Republicans who are still skeptical of him that he would be the party’s strongest candidate against President Obama.”

If last week’s debate in New Hampshire gave Herman Cain his center stage position, Tuesday’s debate in Las Vegas may show why that slot may not be the most comfortable one the stage.

More Americans learned of Cain since last week’s debate through an onslaught of media coverage for the front-running candidate. Tuesday, many of them will be tuning in to see for the first time what the Cain phenomenon is all about.

Cain has, thus far, shown a Teflon-like ability to deflect scrutiny or criticism, and whether or not his opponents seek to pierce that will be one of the most watched dynamics of Tuesday’s debate.

The two-hour debate begins at 8 p.m. ET on CNN. The candidates are not scheduled to debate for another three weeks. Watch for an uptick in traditional ground-game organizing, candidate stumping and television advertising to fill the void.

CALENDAR CLARITY

All eyes now turn to New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner as Iowa Republican officials voted unanimously Monday night to lock in Jan. 3, 2012, as the date for the GOP caucuses.

“A January 3 date provides certainty to the voters, to our presidential candidates, and to the thousands of statewide volunteers who make the Caucus process a reflection of the very best of our representative democracy,” Republican Party of Iowa chairman Matt Strawn said in a statement.

Gardner, who has the sole authority to pick the state’s primary date, has warned he might hold the contest as early as Dec. 6 if Nevada refuses to move back the date of its caucuses from Jan. 14, 2012. (Nevada and South Carolina moved their nominating contests up after Florida leapfrogged them and scheduled its primary for Jan. 31.)

The Des Moines Register’s Jennifer Jacobs reports Gardner may not announce the date of the primary until later next week.

“In New Hampshire, Gardner’s decision isn’t imminent, Paula Penney, New Hampshire elections assistant, said in a telephone interview this afternoon.

“Gardner likely won’t make up his mind during the first week of the filing period, which began today. The last day for candidates to file for their name to be on New Hampshire’s ballot is Oct. 28 — and Gardner might not make up his mind until then, Penney said.”

In announcing the Iowa Republicans’ decision Monday, Strawn pledged to support New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status while the calendar situation is addressed.

“I will do everything in my power on the RNC to hold Florida accountable for creating this mess, but the culpability for creating a compressed January calendar does not end there,” Strawn said. “The actions of early state newcomer Nevada have also exacerbated this problem and unnecessarily crowded the January calendar. Time remains for Nevada to respect the process, honor tradition and rectify the problem in a way that will restore order to the nomination calendar.”

Several GOP presidential candidates have also pressured Nevada to move its date by threatening to boycott the contest.

One contender who hasn’t pledged to do so is Mitt Romney, who is seen as the favorite to win both the New Hampshire primary and the Nevada caucuses.

Romney finds himself in a no-win situation as anything he says at this point is likely to upset GOP leaders in one state or the other.

As WMUR reports, state Republican leaders in New Hampshire are turning up the pressure on Romney to join the boycott to help get Nevada to changes its schedule, which means that not saying anything may also involve some risk for the former Massachusetts governor.

THE POLITICS OF OCCUPY WALL STREET

Former President Bill Clinton’s pollster, Doug Schoen, takes to Tuesday’s op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal to warn Democrats away from embracing the Occupy Wall Street movement too closely.

“On Oct. 10 and 11, Arielle Alter Confino, a senior researcher at my polling firm, interviewed nearly 200 protesters in New York’s Zuccotti Park. Our findings probably represent the first systematic random sample of Occupy Wall Street opinion.

“Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn’t represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse. Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence. Half (52%) have participated in a political movement before, virtually all (98%) say they would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and nearly one-third (31%) would support violence to advance their agenda.”

A new Gallup poll, however, shows an American public that has yet to form an opinion, but more seem to like the messages emanating from Zuccotti Park and elsewhere than disapprove it.

“Less than half of Americans express an opinion about either the Occupy Wall Street movement’s goals or the way it has conducted its protests. Those with an opinion are more likely to approve than disapprove.”

All you need to do is watch how Republicans, from House Majority Eric Cantor to the presidential contenders, have backed off their initial criticism of the OWS protests or the carefully calibrated arm’s length embrace many Democrats are exhibiting to understand that there’s potential political potency here, but nobody has yet figured out how to harness that energy and convert it into a model for electoral politics.

ON THE TRAIL

All events listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama continues his bus tour, holding a roundtable meeting with educators at Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, N.C., at 9:50 a.m., delivering remarks at the college at 11:20 a.m., then crossing into Virginia for remarks at Greensville County High School in Emporia at 5 p.m.
  • Jon Huntsman holds a business town hall in Manchester, N.H., at 3 p.m. and hosts a town hall in Hopkinton at 7:30 p.m. as part of his Nevada boycott.
  • The seven other GOP hopefuls will meet in Las Vegas at 8 p.m. for the CNN/Western Republican Leadership Conference presidential debate.
  • Ron Paul attends the opening of his Nevada campaign office in Las Vegas following the debate at 10:30 p.m.

All future campaign events can be found on our Political Calendar.

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