Televised forums matter in the current Republican race, as candidates can sink or swim with performances on the big stage
Those who say that presidential campaign debates don't matter should talk to Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann.
Fairly or not, the air seeped out of Pawlenty's once-promising presidential campaign about 17 minutes into the June 13 Republican debate in New Hampshire, when he balked at confronting rival Mitt Romney over his health care record. It was pretty much downhill from there to his third-place finish in the Iowa Straw Poll on Aug. 13. He dropped out of the race the next day.
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Bachmann, in contrast, burst onto the national scene in that debate, declaring right then that she was running for president. Her poised, dynamic performance announced Bachmann as a force to be reckoned with. She went on to become the first woman to win the Iowa GOP's famed straw poll.
Considering the ramifications of that one night in Manchester, imagine the potential rat-tat-tat impact of three nationally televised debates in 16 days. With Pawlenty out and Texas Gov. Rick Perry now in, these high-stakes events will set the post-summertime rhythm of the 2012 campaign and reveal how the candidates engage with one another as more voters start tuning into an increasingly hectic race. In one of the most volatile Republican primaries in decades, the lines of argument among the contenders are likely to come into sharp relief by the end of the month.