New Hampshire Republican debate discussion thread

For those who plan to watch this evening’s CNN debate featuring seven Republican presidential candidates, here’s a new discussion thread on the race for the GOP nomination.

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty tried to set the media narrative going into the debate. During a Sunday morning appearance on Fox News, Pawlenty noted, “President Obama said that he designed ‘Obamacare’ after ‘Romneycare’ and basically made it ‘Obamneycare.’” Romney’s campaign responded, “Republicans should keep the focus on President Obama’s failure to create jobs and control spending.” Easier said than done, given how unpopular the health insurance reform law is with the GOP primary electorate.

Pawlenty has traded blows with Representative Michele Bachmann over the past few days:

During a Friday interview, Neil Cavuto of Fox showed Mr. Pawlenty a poll indicating he’s running at the back of the pack and he asked the former governor if he was annoyed that Ms. Bachmann seems to generate more buzz than he does. “Look,” he replied, “I’m not speaking about Michele Bachmann here but I’m not running for comedian-in-chief or entertainer-in-chief. You know, if people want to have that be the main consideration, they should go to a Broadway show.”

In a WSJ Opinion interview Saturday, Ms. Bachmann was asked whether Mr. Pawlenty as a good governor. “I really don’t want to comment,” she said.

Some Iowa Republicans believe Pawlenty is best positioned to capitalize on last week’s mass exodus of Newt Gingrich staffers and Romney’s decision not to contest the Ames straw poll.  I find it hard to see Pawlenty drawing a lot of enthusiastic support from the rank and file. If he seems to be on the rise, it won’t be hard for other candidates to bring up his terrible record of fiscal management.

Besides Pawlenty, Romney, Bachmann and Gingrich, the CNN debate will also include former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, Representative Ron Paul, and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum. CNN excluded some candidates who have been campaigning in New Hampshire, such as former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and longtime campaign operative Fred Karger, probably the best-known Republican supporter of marriage equality.

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman decided against participating in this debate, but he is likely to announce his candidacy in the next two weeks. Appearing on CNN yesterday, Huntsman indicated that he would accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. His campaign will put foreign policy experience front and center, but Huntsman has also begun to criticize President Barack Obama’s economic record. If he did that on the debate stage, his rivals would surely point out that Huntsman supported the 2009 federal stimulus.

Pundits increasingly speculate that Texas Governor Rick Perry will run for president. He has reportedly been talking to major donors, and could hire a couple of the senior staffers who quit the Gingrich campaign. I don’t see Perry as a strong presidential candidate. Linda Feldman discussed some of his weaknesses in the Christian Science Monitor, but she left out one other glaring problem in his record. This year Texas had the second-largest projected state budget shortfall in the country (as a percentage of current-year state government spending), even larger than California’s.

UPDATE: I didn’t watch the debate, but Republican insiders seem to think it was a good night for Romney and Bachmann and a bad night for Pawlenty.

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