In the last Republican debate, Mitt Romney, usually cool, calm, and collected, clearly got heated over Rick Perry’s charges that he hired illegal immigrants for yard work.

While the GOP presidential frontrunner (awkwardly and oddly) laughed off the claims at first, it was clear that he was ruffled as he pushed back against Perry.

So the first order of business in tonight’s Republican debate on CNBC is for Romney to avoid losing his cool as he will be inevitably targeted by the other seven Republicans on the stage. He may get some help from the furor surrounding Herman Cain, his current rival for the lead in the polls, as the subject of the sexual harassment claims by two women publicly, and two more behind the scenes, against the former Godfather’s CEO is bound to come up and perhaps repeatedly.

Romney’s major hurdle is convincing a wide swath of Republican voters that he is not a watered-down version of President Obama with corporate and managerial skills, but a bold, passionate leader who can transform the way Washington works, and who can radically alter the size, shape, and scope of government.

The economy is Romney’s sweet spot and his record on job creation in the private sector is the centerpiece of his candidacy. He has to own this issue, and be ready for dings on his record in the private sector. Perry will bring the heat, and talk about taking a wrecking ball to Washington.

Romney has to match this passion for smaller government, which means he has to avoid sounding like a technocrat with the best spreadsheets, and instead be a candidate with fire in his belly with the skills to match. He will have something of a homecourt advantage (Romney’s dad is a former Michigan governor) and if the Nevada debate is any measure, he will get the most applause.

On Wednesay, Romney has got to make that welcome look well-deserved, not just the inevitable support that a hometown boy and frontrunner would get.


Herman Cain will be on the hot seat

Rick Perry gets another chance

Does Jon Huntsman have game?

Ron Paul happy to focus on the economy

Newt Gingrich tries to break through

Michele Bachmann ready to attack

Rick Santorum searches for spark