The four remaining candidates are getting together for the second Republican primary debate this week, and there is so much to talk about, like Mitt Romney's accounts in the Caymans and Newt Gingrich's still-not-over-it ex-wife. Gingrich got a standing ovation at Monday's debate for "putting [moderator] Juan Williams in his place," as one South Carolina woman put it, and now he's pulling ahead of Romney in state polls. Romney has done well in most of the debates of the last six months, except for the couple times Rick Perry rattled him. Angry Romney tends to make mistakes -- "I'm running for office for Pete's sake -- I can't have illegals"; "Rick, I’ll tell you what: 10,000 bucks -- $10,000 bet!" -- and those lines often remind viewers that Romney's the Rich Uncle Pennybags of the race. Will Gingrich get under Romney's skin tonight? The debate begins at 8p.m. eastern time on CNN, and we'll be liveblogging here starting about 7p.m.
10:18p.m.: What we learned tonight: Gingrich loves performing in these debates -- he fed off the crowd's cheers when he bashed the media for talking about his marriages, and then took special care to remind us of how good he was at debating in the middle of a debate. He looked quite confident that he nailed it. Romney, on the other hand, tends to look condescending when he feels he has to explain "how capitalism works." For parts of the debate, he disappeared while Santorum and Gingrich were rehashing of their glory days in Congress in the 1990s. Santorum hinted for a moment that he didn't quite think he deserved to be on stage tonight, but he made it clear he doesn't think Ron Paul does either.
10:13p.m.: Here's how people are scoring the candidates' performances:
- "scoring Santorum the winner b/c he bested Gingrich 1-on-1. But Gingrich did himself most good. Romney solid but running out clock is tough." -- ABC News' Rick Klein.
- "Feel like Santo won this debate by a bigger margin than any GOP candidate has won any other debate... Not sure it will matter." -- Politico's Glenn Thrush.
- "newt wins first 5 minutes; santorum wins the rest; romney fine, but the tax returns continue to be a problem." -- National Review's Rich Lowry.
- "Harder and harder to divine winners/losers in these debates. Newt will get lion's share of coverage. Does that mean he won?" -- The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza.
- "A Gingrich triumph. His only concern must be how well Santorum did tonight. Paul performed well, but remains peripheral to the struggle for the orthodox "conservative" candidate. I think Romney is in serious trouble now, and the bottom fell out tonight. He died with that glib response - "maybe" - to the question of whether he'd follow his father's example [on releasing his tax returns]." -- The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan.
10:08p.m.: Public Policy Polling finds Gingrich's approval rating above Romney's for the first time. This survey was taken before the Marianne Gingrich interview, though.
9:55p.m.: Santorum's campaign is passing out flyers showing Romney saying he supports "the substance… of Roe v. Wade," ABC News' Shushannah Walshe reports. She tweets a photo:
9:46p.m. Paul demands a chance to answer an abortion question, with audience cheers. He talks about being a doctor during the social change of the 1960s and 1970s. "The law won't correct the morality of the people," Paul says. The audience cheers, and it's not clear that they know what they're cheering for.
Paul says violence like abortion is handled by the states, so there shouldn't be a constitutional amendment to ban it, just like there isn't one to ban murder. Santorum thinks this answer is crazy:
9:43p.m.: When Romney thinks he did well on an answer, he does a little quarter turn, puts his arms at his sides, nods and smiles tightly. Mid-turn:
9:40p.m.: "I'm not questioned on character and integrity very often," Romney says in response to Gingrich. Then he hesitates, like he's about to say "unlike some people." But he doesn't. Disappointed.
At as he wraps up his answer to the question (about his abortion record) Romney again comes so close to zinging Gingrich. "This is not the time to be doubting people's words, and questioning their integrity." That would make sense if he'd finished the sentence, "when your ex-wife is telling all kinds of stories on you." But he doesn't, so his statement makes no sense at all. This is exactly the time to be doubting people's words and questioning their principles. It's a presidential election.
9:32p.m.: Romney says the most important thing to do in stopping illegal immigration is to build a fence on the whole border with the U.S. This is where Rick Perry's absence is felt. Early in the debates -- before he started hanging out with Arizona Sheriff Joe "Put Illegals in Pink Underwear" Arpaio -- Perry make the entirely sensible point, based on geography, that it would be insanely expensive to build a fence that size through the desert.
9:17p.m.: Romney campaign subject line, quoting guess-who: "'I THINK GRANDIOSE THOUGHTS'"
9:15p.m.: Gingrich says he's against SOPA, while attacking Hollywood. "I favor freedom." Romney says Gingrich is right, and the legislation is "far too intrusive." Paul is pro-freedom.
However, this is a sore point for Santorum, the Internet. The Internet has not been good to him. "You can't go on the Internet and do anything you want to do." He thinks the bill goes too far, but "the idea that anything goes on the Internet, where did that come from?"
9:08p.m.: Romney says he won't release his taxes now, because he wants to release them all in April, after he finishes this year's returns. If the documents come out piecemeal, Democrats will get too many chances to attack him, he says. The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza tweets, "Imagine if Obama said, 'I'm not releasing Solyndra documents because the Republicans will attack me.'"
9:05p.m.: When all the other candidates watch Romney, sometimes it sort of looks like a table of beta girls admiring and envying an alpha girl.
9:04p.m.: Romney gets booed when he says he's not sure whether he'll release as many years of tax returns as his dad did when he ran for president in 1968.
8:59p.m.: Ron Paul says he's not ready to release his tax returns -- but not for the same reason as the other guys on stage. "I'd be embarrassed" by his meager wealth. Romney cackles cartoonishly. Paul will never lose the title of Most Adorable Candidate of 2012.
8:56p.m.: Romney claims that unlike his rivals, with all that Washington on their resume, while he is from the "real streets." Tee hee. After being ignored for several minutes, Romney forgets his question:
8:49p.m.: King asks Santorum about Gingrich's comment that the former senator should drop out because he doesn't know what he's doing. "Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich," Santorum says. He notes Gingrich predicted earlier this campaign that he'd win the nomination easily. Points out he won the Iowa caucuses and beat Newt in New Hampshire. "And I should get out of the race? These are not cogent thoughts."
8:49p.m.: Gingrich's campaign posted his tax returns tonight, Politico points out. Gingrich was right when he said his tax rate was around 30 percent.
8:47p.m.: Ron Paul: big ideas, big suit.
8:41p.m.: In defending his health record from Santorum, Gingrich says he is shocked Santorum says he wouldn't be able to debate Obama on Obamacare since he once supported the individual health care mandate. He is actually shocked Santorum played so well into his line about how he'll debate Obama in three-hour Lincoln-Douglas-style debates "and I'll even let him use a TelePrompTer."
At that line, Santorum realizes his mistake.
8:36p.m.: Could the candidates really repeal Obamacare? Romney says he would go after a complete repeal, and that it would take hard work. Gingrich says it would be hard, too, but then turns the question into an attack on Obama. He says Obama wants kids to stay on their parents' health insurance till they're 26 because "he can't create any jobs." Huge crowd pleaser. "Elect us and your kids will be able to move out because they'll have work!" The crowd is so happy it's practically high.
Rick Santorum says he's been fighting for conservative reform of the health care system "while these two guys were playing footsie with the left."
8:28p.m.: BuzzFeed posts the first few minutes of the debate, in which "Newt Nukes CNN's John King."
8:22p.m.: Romney gives a strong defense of his private equity record. Sometimes, when he's explaining "how capitalism works," as he puts it, he looks just a teeny bit sarcastic, like, I can't believe I have to take these questions seriously. Even charities like it when you make money for them, okay?
8:18p.m: "Labor stooges" must have tested well in the Romney campaign's focus groups. He says it over and over when talking about Obama's handling of the National Labor Relations Board.
8:09p.m.: Moderator John King opens the debate asking Newt Gingrich whether he really asked his second wife for an open marriage. Gingrich, naturally, bashes the press for being "vicious" and for its "despicable" act of interviewing an angry ex two days before the election. He says he's "appalled CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate." Standing ovation!
"I am tired of the news media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans!" More standing ovation. Gingrich thinks he nailed it:
8:01p.m.: CNN begins the debate with a hilarious intro. "Welcome to the South." It's like a ridiculous overserious reality show intro. This is about the presidential election, guys! You don't have to convince us it's important. Welcome to the debate, the narrator says, "and the fight for the South."
7:55p.m.: Both Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin defended Gingrich today from his ex-wife's complaints about how he treated her, Politico's Maggie Haberman points out. Except they didn't go after Marianne Gingrich, but the reporters who talked to her. "I don't know whether this is enough to cause it, but at some point if this keeps up there will be a huge backlash against the media to not let them clear our field," Limbaugh said. Palin said on Sean Hannity's radio show, "They think by trotting out this old Gingrich divorce interview — that’s old news and it does feature this disgruntled ex- that claimed that it would destroy a campaign. All this does is, Sean, is incentivize conservatives and independents who are so sick of the politics of personal destruction because it’s played so selectively by the media." This is excellent for Gingrich, because bashing the media is his speciality.
7:40p.m.: Afraid you won't get enough folksy aphorisms from tonight's debate with Rick Perry out of the race? Perhaps you remember this guy, Herman Cain? Cain wasn't gone for long (he should talk to Newt Gingrich about "departure and return.") He endorsed YOU for president today. He'll deliver the Tea Party response to President Obama's State of the Union address next week, The Hill's Daniel Strauss reports. And tomorrow, Cain will be at a rally with Stephen Colbert in Charleston, where "Together, these two unique voices will declare that they are the same man," a Colbert release said.
7:26p.m.: Poor Ron Paul was ignored by the media again today with all the news about Gingrich's ex-wife, Romney's funds in the Cayman Islands, and Rick Perry quitting the race. But Raw Story reports a Ron Paul hot air balloon in Greenville, South Carolina floating next to I-85 caused a traffic jam today. Police deflated it. "This was the REAL best news story/photo of the day," Gawker's Jim Newell tweets.