There still is much to learn about the eight GOP contenders, and it doesn’t begin and end with their critiques of the Democratic administration.

We need to know what, if anything, each would do to jump-start the economy. We don’t need to know why they would not have pursued Obama’s policies. Each, in one forum or another, has said what was wrong with the president’s approach. What about theirs? And what do the candidates think of each other’s proposals?

Much has been made of the hunting camp in West Texas with the racially charged name and Gov. Rick Perry’s use of that facility. His Texas roots have had quite a going-over, with news stories exploring his social policies and appointment of African Americans in his administration. Tonight’s debate provides a perfect opportunity to learn about the records of the other seven candidates when it comes to hiring and promoting minorities to positions of responsibility in their offices and organizations.

Tonight’s focus will be the economy. But don’t take immigration off the table. The issue, this time around, isn’t Perry’s in-state tuition plan for children of illegal immigrants in Texas. Alabama’s draconian immigration scheme ought to be the chief focus. The Obama administration opposes it and will challenge the plan in court. If president, would any of the eight hopefuls also take on that fight?

All of the GOP candidates have pledged to repeal the recently enacted Obama health plan. No need for them to repeat why. We’ve heard all of that before. We need to know what, if anything, each would propose in its place?

How does each feel about the National Park Service’s decision to allow the anti-Wall Street protesters to occupy Freedom Plaza for several additional months? Do they see any merit in what’s happening in cities around the country?

What’s this we read in The Washington Post over the weekend about Baghdad helping Bashar al-Assad in Syria? After the United States has expended all that blood and treasure, the Iraqi regime now in place is making nice with a sworn American enemy? What do the GOP candidates think of that? More important, in this case, what, as president, what would each do?

What about Iran's nuclear ambitions? Should they be curbed? If yes, how? Repeating what they wouldn’t do — backhanded jabs at Obama — doesn’t tell us very much. How would each tackle the problem?

Okay. You get my drift. Don’t bog down the evening throwing brickbats at Obama. And a note to the debate moderator: Don’t be afraid of landing the candidate’s economic plane. Break the mold, and let’s find out who these candidates really are.