For 90 minutes in New Hampshire tonight, eight Republican presidential hopefuls will sit around a wooden table and take shots at each other and President Obama. The theme of The Washington Post/Bloomberg debate, which starts at 8 p.m, is the economy. As Karen Tumulty, who will be one of the journalists asking questions, wrote, previous debates definitively shifted the momentum of the race. And tonight’s debate will likely set off yet another a new phase.
Here are five key things to look for in tonight’s debate:
1. Is Herman Cain a contender or a pretender? In previous debates, Cain was the genial candidate-without-a-prayer on the very end of the stage, talking up his 9-9-9 tax plan and his preference for the Chilean model of social security. Tuesday night, because of his rapid rise in national polls, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO will have Mitt Romney to his left and Texas Governor Rick Perry to his right.
So how do they treat him when he is at their elbows and nipping at their heels in polls?
Romney has praised Cain’s business background, suggesting that he doesn’t see Cain as a threat. In fact, Cain’s continued presence and strong showing only help Romney. Perry, on the other hand, has the most to gain by going after Cain. But he must weigh whether tangling with Cain is actually punching down.
Regardless of whether he is attacked, to sustain his rise, Cain must get more specific about his economic plan, and show that he is more than a flash- in-the-pan candidate with a catchy slogan.