Republican presidential candidates gather tonight at the Reagan library in Simi Valley, Calif. Here are five things to pay attention to as you view the debate.
The last time Republicans took the stage for a nationally televised presidential debate, viewers were treated to an evening of snippy back-and-forth. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich accused Fox's Chris Wallace of playing "Mickey Mouse games," former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty asked Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) to "please stop" trying to lead on conservative issues in Congress, former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) wasn't happy about his allotted screen time, and Bachmann was asked if she'd be "subservient" to her husband if elected commander in chief.
Tonight, the 2012 candidates are back for another round, this time at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. at 8 p.m. Eastern. The race has changed significantly since Fox's Iowa debate -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry now leads it, and Pawlenty has since dropped out. So, as we reassess the GOP field, here's a list of things to watch for as the national TV audience gets to judge the Republican candidates once again:
1. Perry's first performance. Everybody's heard about the governor of Texas. Since entering the race, Perry has dominated press coverage of the GOP field. He shot to the top of polls, supplanting former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as the GOP's 2012 frontrunner. In the latest ABC/Washington Post survey, he ranked first with 29 percent support, while Romney followed with 23 percent. But few have seen Perry in person or heard him speak. Debates offer candidates a chance to flash charisma, and a chance to mess everything up. National Journal's Beth Reinhard and Alex Roarty report that Perry typically does well in debates without really exciting anyone:
And here's a little secret Perry's team isn't trying to hide, as it seeks to lower the sky-high expectations for his national debut: Behind the podium and under the bright lights, he is solid, but far from spectacular.
"He's completely forgettable and wins every time,'' said Texas-based Democratic consultant Jason Stanford, who worked for Perry's 2006 opponent, Chris Bell. "He does exactly and only what he needs to do to win."
2. Attacking Perry? Continuing with the it's-all-about-Rick-Perry theme of tonight's debate, we'll watch closely to see if candidates attack the Texas governor, directly or with veiled references. Frontrunners usually draw the most fire, and, until now, candidates have taken Romney to task for his record, seeking to bring him down while making themselves look good. Will Perry get the same treatment?