Politico has decided to air its debate following the president’s job speech on Sept. 7. The Republican contenders will have the opportunity to, in essence, test their rebuttal skills against the president. Whoever can use the opportunity to his or her advantage, not only bashing President Obama but showing how fit a competitor he or she would be, will get a nice boost.

The top candidates are already firing back. Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s spokesman Mark Miner had this reaction via e-mail: “Governor Perry looks forward to talking about his plans to get America working again. Another speech by President Obama will have no impact on the debate.” Mitt Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul tells me, “Next Wednesday night TV viewers will have a choice between Republican candidates talking about the future of America, or Barack Obama talking about the future of his presidency.” Game on, in other words.

I imagine the strategy wheels are turning in all the campaigns. Do they aim for a presidential aura or go for the jugular? Do they need a job plan of their own? (Romney, you may recall, will debut his on Sept. 6.) Should they respond to the specifics or simply give Obama the back of the hand?

A Republican operative sneered at the White House’s excuse that the timing conflict was inadvertent. “It’s pretty blatant. As millions of Americans remain unemployed each month, President Obama has put put the nation on hold for his jobs plan so he could go on a taxpayer-funded campaign bus tour, go on vacation and then maximize the political timing of his speech.”

The president was never going to get a friendly reception from Republicans in a joint session. Now, given the political stakes, you can expect a frosty reaction. And frankly, if the president is speaking as a partisan, why do members need to treat it as a nonpartisan affair with all the trappings and decorum of a presidential address? In fact, why do they need to show up? They are being used as political props, and they can certainly decline the offer to provide set dressing for the Democratic presidential nominee for 2012.

UPDATE (4:49 p.m.) Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has sent a letter to the White House suggesting the president move his speech to next Thursday. But anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist takes the cake with the suggestion that Obama pay the standard rental fee for using the Capitol as a campaign event. Oh, let the cleverest pol win!