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Have the debates jumped the shark?

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Eleven debates plus eight candidates equals a likely case of debate fatigue. And that was one of the takeaways from CNN’s national security debate, which came just 10 days after another national security debate, 3 days after a candidate’s forum in Iowa, and just one day after Michele Bachmann appeared on Jimmy Fallon and Mitt Romney appeared on Hannity and Newt Gingrich promised to radically overhaul entitlement programs and possibly create a crop of kid janitors.

Win McNamee

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Republican presidential candidates (L-R) Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich honor the national anthem prior to the debate in Washington on Tuesday.

On the stump, on the tube, on the debate stage, the eight GOP candidates vying for their party’s nomination have taken a flood-the-zone approach to campaigning, and it seems that their most frequent stops have been behind a debate podium, where no detail is left to chance. But could it be that with just under two months left before the first contest, we know almost everything there is to know about this crop of GOP candidates?

Could Herman Cain possibly have anything else to say about 9-9-9?

How many more times does Ron Paul have to say that he’s relatively OK with Iran getting a nuclear weapon for people to understand that he is a non-interventionist?

And Rick Perry can’t say it any more plainly that foreign aid in his administration would start at zero and then be merit-based from there, and that includes aid for Pakistan.

Electromagnetic pulse? No idea. But Newt Gingrich is worried about it.

So far, some 40.5 million people have tuned in to watch the debates, with Fox News drawing the biggest ratings for the Sept. 22 debate in Orlando which 6.1 million people watched — the ratings for Tuesday’s debate will likely be a little lower, given that it is the beginning of the Thanksgiving holiday.

As much as these debates have mattered over the last two weeks, fortunes have been falling and rising (except for Romney’s) all along the way. Perry lost his footing and his edge on the debate stage, and with every pause he makes in answering a question, the specter of an “oops” redux is always at hand.

And Gingrich and Romney are simply strong debaters, and that won’t change.

But viewers will likely continue to tune in, even as one debate seems to roll indistinguishably into the next, looking to size up the candidates again, and looking for that gotcha or gaffe moment.

The next candidate gathering is set for Dec. 3 on Fox News with Mike Huckabee as moderator. A week later, the candidates will have debate in Iowa, then five days later another debate in Iowa, just in case someone in Iowa missed the other debates.

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