Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Six things to watch in GOP presidential debate tonight

From USA Today
The GOP candidates for president meet tonight for a debate focused solely on the economy, the issue that will drive much of the 2012 campaign.

The U.S. economy added 103,000 jobs in September -- a number that was better than expected by experts -- but the national unemployment rate remained at 9.1%. The snail's pace of the recovery has prompted concerns that the sluggish economy will be here for a while, well into the 2012 presidential campaign.

Tonight's face-off is hosted by Bloomberg TV and The Washington Post and will be held at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, starting at 8 p.m. ET. Check your local listings on where to find Bloomberg TV or watch the livestream video on the Post's website. We'll live-blog in On Politics.

Here's our preview of six things to watch during the forum:

1. Rick Perry, the debater: The Texas governor, the leader in national polls two weeks ago, has seen his support drop by half in the latest Gallup Poll. Part of the reason is Perry's uneven debate performances and the last event, in Florida on Sept. 22, is widely viewed as his worst. He sometimes rambled in his answers, such as on a question about Pakistan, and he faded toward the end. Perry's wife, Anita, told an Iowa audience that Perry would be "better prepared next time." Unnamed Perry advisers told The New York Times that one prescriptive is to require Perry to get more sleep.

2. Jobs, jobs, jobs: Mitt Romney, who has reclaimed the top spot in the latest presidential surveys, has made job creation and the economy the centerpiece of his campaign. He's sparred frequently with Perry over who has the better record on job creation and who is best equipped to fix what ails the economy. Tonight's focus gives Romney another opportunity to hit Perry for such things as overseeing zero job growth in Texas during August. Likewise, Perry will have a chance to jab Romney with two oft-repeated statistics: Massachusetts ranked 47th in job creation while Romney was governor and the state's health care law he signed has cost 18,000 jobs. The second number has been debunked by some experts, as Factcheck.org has analyzed.

3. Herman Cain on the hotseat: The former Godfather's Pizza chief executive has surged as Perry has fallen and is behind Romney in Gallup and other national polls. With that kind of meteoric rise comes more scrutiny, and Cain could emerge as a new punching bag in tonight's debate. His 9-9-9 plan -- which calls for a 9% corporate tax rate, 9% national sales tax and 9% income tax rate -- is getting more attention. USA TODAY's Jackie Kucinich reports that tax experts say the Cain plan would create a larger burden on low-income people. Cain says he's ready for the "gotcha" questions and defended his 9-9-9 plan on the Sunday talk shows.

4. The setting for the GOP debate hosted by Bloomberg TV and The Washington Post.

CAPTIONBloomberg TV4. President Obama as target: Obama has been like the elephant in the room at all the GOP debates. Each Republican wants his job, and each finds a way to turn the conversation back to Obama and his leadership. No doubt Obama's handling of the economy will come up repeatedly, as will his latest jobs plan. The GOP candidates and their allies in Congress have pounced on Obama's jobs plan because it seeks to increase taxes on the wealthy. The Senate could deal a blow to the Obama proposal before the debate even begins: A procedural vote is scheduled for as early as 5:30 p.m. ET.

5. The devil is in the details: Expect questions directed to the candidates about their specific proposals on jump-starting the economy. We've already mentioned Cain's 9-9-9 plan. Romney has a sweeping plan that covers about 160 pages. Jon Huntsman, a former Utah governor, has his own plan that centers on a dramatic revamping of the tax code. Ex-House speaker Newt Gingrich calls for eliminating capital gains taxes, while Texas Rep. Ron Paul would get rid of the IRS altogether. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann talks about reducing federal regulations, and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum is among those calling for a repeal of the Dodd-Frank law passed last year that imposed rules on Wall Street.

6. The stagecraft and audience reaction: The candidates will be seated side-by-side at a roundtable, facing moderator Charlie Rose and panelists Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post and Bloomberg TV's Julianna Goldman. They'll be surrounded by about 860 audience members, including local, state and national GOP leaders and Dartmouth students and faculty. The format is being touted as a way to facilitate "serious and substantive debate." In two previous forums, some audience reaction has come into play: A gay soldier who posed a question by video got booed, and someone shouted, "Let him die" when Paul was asked what he would do to help a sick man without health insurance.

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