Tonight's event, hosted by CNN and the New Hampshire Union Leader is the second debate among candidates, but the first to feature Mitt Romney and unannounced presumptive candidate Michele Bachmann. It also comes on the heels of one of the participant's senior staff quitting the campaign. Newt Gingrich surfaces tonight for what many think will be his final attempt to gain traction among GOP primary voters.
Last Thursday, Gingrich was told to his face that without his active participation in scheduled events, there is no need to mount a campaign. The former Speaker of the House of Representatives went on an extended vacation with wife Calista rather than making the rounds in the early primary states of Iowa and South Carolina. The full story, here.
With the Anthony Weiner story still in the news, it seems more likely than not that references to him, his scandalous behavior and his refusal to resign will be inserted where the participants deem appropriate. Weiner is reportedly seeking treatment for what ails him, as announced by his spokesman on Saturday. That story, here.
Tonight's participants have something to prove and a lot invested in not torpedoing their own candidacy by the end of the evening.
Mitt Romney: As the front runner, Romney wants to showcase reasons for that designation. As the top dog, he will have to devise new and creative ways to defend himself from his opponents' attacks on the Massachusetts health reform legislation he championed. It is certain that he will take the role of a political pinata tonight, with the only open questions being how many of those on the stage will take a stick to him and who scores the most points.
Tim Pawlenty: Because he is a relative unknown, despite having declared early in this process, it is presumed that he needs to set himself apart from the pack, while joining his colleagues in bashing Mitt Romney. He might have already taken a big step towards that goal. Appearing on "Fox News Sunday" Pawlenty claimed that former Gov. Romney gave President Obama a road map for the health care reform legislation proposed and passed. He even coined a new nickname for his opponent based on that claim - "Obameny Care."
Newt Gingrich: The public will be anxious to hear how he counters the staff bashing he endured last week. His statement about the situation gave no specifics, and that won't cut it tonight. He did insist that the campaign would continue and in New Hampshire he has the opportunity to demonstrate that he means it. His credentials are years old now, with his career in Congress having ended more than a decade ago. What he offers as an alternative to the younger candidates and those that align themselves with the Tea Party remains to be seen.
Ron Paul: This is not Ron Paul 2.0. It is the same Ron Paul who will likely remind potential voters that he was prescient when he conducted a campaign in 2008. He is the darling of libertarians and Tea Party members for his message about smaller government. Paul's stance on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan might not resonate as well with more mainstream Republican voters, but he certainly can demonstrate that his opposition has been embraced in some circles.
Michele Bachmann: Her little cat fight with the former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will not get in the way tonight since Palin will not be present. Bachmann will most likely stress her background, which on paper is impressive. Her campaign manager already made news when he slammed Palin for lacking his candidate's experience. She is a business woman, a lawyer and served as a member of Minnesota's legislator prior to her time in Congress. Of utmost importance for Bachmann tonight is to avoid a major mistake that would allow her opponents to paint her as insubstantial and weak on the facts.
Herman Cain: The former CEO of Godfather's Pizza can use his lack of government experience to show he is outside the establishment and has fresh ideas about how to solve the country's problems. Unfortunately, it will be the reason for him to be trivialized and savaged by the others on stage tonight. Expect them to pounce on any extreme position he espouses, as well as any facile policy proposal he makes. Don't be surprised if someone doesn't raise his statement about how to make America competitive again. Cain says we should just "outgrow China".
Rick Santorum: The former Pennsylvania Senator has come off as having a hard edge in his partisan pronouncements, yet in some recent polls he has scored well enough to approach the popularity of Pawlenty. He has the political chops and can speak with authority on all major issues while still appealing to the religious right. It didn't hurt that his wife told CNN a while back that her husband's candidacy was the subject of much prayer in their home and ultimately, "... we believe with all our hearts that this is what God wants."
The festivities begin tonight at 8:00 p.m. EDT.