With Iowa just two months away, the stakes are high for tonight’s GOP debate. Politico describes it as an “elimination round,” with everyone except Mitt Romney—and maybe the seemingly immovable Ron Paul—“one misstep away from political death." Here’s what to watch for:
- Will anyone touch Herman Cain’s scandal? Focusing on that circus might hurt the GOP brand, the Daily Beast points out, “so they may instead let him bleed slowly as they avert their eyes.”
- Who can be the Not-Mitt? Anti-Romney sentiment coalesced this week, but has no standard bearer. Newt Gingrich is gaining some buzz, especially after his heart-to-heart with Cain, so some speculate that he's next.
- Who matters? “For Huntsman, Santorum, and Bachmann, the debate is totally about relevance and trying to maintain some respectability,” an ex-Huntsman campaign manager says. “Not much more, I don’t think.”
- Will Rick Perry be sober? Perry is reeling after his, um, interesting New Hampshire speech. Perry can come off “like a deer caught in headlights,” says one strategist. “He’s got to decide, what are the two or three messages I’m going to drive?”
- What about Mitt? “Romney can begin to play ball-control politics,” says a former McCain adviser. “He just needs to be reassuring and not say anything really dumb."