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GOP Debate Preview: Clashing in the Shadow of Reagan

And then there were four.

Tonight at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif., the four remaining candidates -- John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul -- will take to the stage for the final time before Super Tuesday.

Much has changed since last week's rather placid GOP debate in Florida. Rudy Giuliani has formally left the contest and endorsed McCain. McCain's win yesterday in Florida cemented his status as the GOP frontrunner. Huckabee's inability (yet again) to re-create the magic of Iowa has relegated him to second-tier status.

Given all these developments, there is a certain amount of unpredictability surrounding tonight's debate -- sponsored by CNN, Politico and the Los Angeles Times and running on the cable network at 8 p.m. ET.

Below you'll find The Fix's take on what to expect from each of the four candidates tonight. We'll be watching the debate (as always) and weighing in a few times throughout. So stay tuned.

* John McCain: McCain enters tonight's debate riding a huge swell of momentum -- punctuated by the endorsement from Giuliani. Expect McCain to act as though he is already the party's nominee, spending most of his rhetorical ammunition on Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. McCain's goal tonight is to not screw anything up; most Republican strategists -- aligned and unaligned -- agree that if McCain makes no big mistakes between now and Super Tuesday he will almost certainly be the GOP nominee. Tonight's debate is the last major chance for McCain's rivals -- well, let's be honest, Romney! -- to trip him up. McCain needs to avoid getting dragged into a debate with Romney where he looks anything other than magnanimous and presidential.

* Mitt Romney: In last week's Florida debate, Romney occasionally jabbed at McCain but was apparently comfortable enough with the state of the campaign in the Sunshine State that he made no direct attacks. With McCain's win yesterday, any pretense of the race having co-frontrunners is now gone. There's no love lost between McCain and Romney, so it won't be a big surprise if the former Massachusetts governor takes some big swings at the Arizona senator. The likely line of attack? That Romney is the candidate of conservatives while McCain represents the liberal wing of the party on issues like energy, immigration and campaign finance reform. Exit-polling results from Florida show that conservatives still aren't sold on McCain, but they haven't totally bought in to Romney either. Can he sell them tonight?

* Mike Huckabee: For much of the last month, Huckabee has served as a stalking horse for McCain in debates. The former Arkansas governor regularly comes to McCain's defense when the Arizona senator is under attack and never hits McCain when he has opportunities to do so. Even with McCain's win in Florida and emerging frontrunner status, it's hard to imagine Huckabee changing his tune now. Huckabee won't say it, but it seems clear that he would be overjoyed to serve as McCain's vice presidential pick and, if that's the case, he'll do everything he can to help McCain win the nomination. If Huckabee sticks to the script, Romney will be outnumbered two to one tonight.

* Ron Paul: Give Ron Paul this: He's consistent. In tonight's debate we're almost certain to hear Paul excoriate the Bush foreign policy and the administration's approach to Iraq, expound on why he is the only "real" Republican in the race and, maybe, if we're lucky, make mention of the 4,000 babies he has delivered.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 30, 2008; 6:09 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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everyone claims to be reagan heirs and the great one must be turning in his grave. the way i see it, it is only ron paul who makes sense but he is still not reagan.the others are sadly lacking. we have an straight talker who speaks with a fork tongue. an impetous, hot headed old man who wanted to bomb iran. if this man becomes president, the spectre of world war iii is very real. another candidate is not only a two-faced janus but a political chameleon who adapts and change color on every issue. the last one is a saint who made GOD his campaign manager

Posted by: tim591 | January 31, 2008 5:01 PM | Report abuse

the heirs of ronald reagan are here. the way i see it, it is only ron paul that talks sense and presents the best on what he will do as president. How could i vote for the others? one a straight talker who speaks with a fork tongue. an impetous old man who wanted to bomb iran.if he becomes president the spectre of world war III is very real .another candidate is not only a two-faced janus but a political chameleon who adapts and changed color in every situation. the last is a saint who made god his campained manager.

Posted by: tim591 | January 31, 2008 4:47 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: ConservativeDan | January 31, 2008 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Romney, McCain, or Huckabee, it doesn't matter. If you do 6 degree's of separation from them, their only 1 degree away, because a related staff member sits on all of their boards. If we want to change, we have to vote for Ron Paul. He's the only person that can beat Hillary.

Posted by: testere40 | January 31, 2008 8:28 AM | Report abuse

There is nothing difficult about the two Republican front runners. If you want someone to continue more vigorously Bush's policies, then you vote for McCain. If you care about the domestic problems facing America and our involvement in Iraq, you vote for Romney. It is that simple!

Posted by: kyprios928 | January 31, 2008 1:15 AM | Report abuse

Anyone who supports the Born Again, Faith Based, Pro Life Lying War Criminal Mass Murderer Serial Killer in Chief and the VP of Torture should never be in the WH. Anyone who supports wasting a couple of trillion dollars of taxpayers funds in Illegal Invasions of Sovereign States should never be our leader. If one had any courage, one would call for the Axis of Evil to be indicted for War Crimes. People who support Mission Accomplished is equally guilty in the thousands of Murders. These Killers need to face Justice at the International Criminal Court. There is no Statue of Limitations on War Crimes.

Who Would Jesus Kill?

All of these Religious Psychos are Frauds. Only Ignorant Deluded Idiots would believe any of them.
Crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court

Posted by: mawt | January 30, 2008 11:43 PM | Report abuse

I heard Mark Levin's show on talk radio tonight. He could barely take a call, because he was trying to attack John McCain and promote Romney, but the only people who really were calling were calling about Ron Paul. He kept cutting them off when they tried to say Ron Paul and Mark Levin kept saying, "Oh, we have another ROOPAULER out there." And then he would pass disparaging remarks against Paul's supporters, repeatedly calling the well respected Congressman Dr. Ron Paul, Roo Paul. There is something dreadfully wrong with Mark Levin. Anyway, he continued cutting people off, with the button, closing their mike. Eventually he had a Mitt Romney supporter call in and he was so accustomed to hearing compliments before hearing Ron Paul's name, when the woman tried to say Romney, she only got to say "Rom..." and he had cut her off. He corrected the error by bringing her mic back and asking her to repeat that she was a Romney supporter. This is so funny. The talk show hosts are so intent on censoring Ron Paul supporters, they are accidentally censoring the supporters of their own candidates. That's what media censorship does. It starts out censoring ony one group and then it ends up silencing everyone. Go RON PAUL! See? I said his name! Ha! Don't tase me, bro!

Posted by: Sprite1 | January 30, 2008 11:35 PM | Report abuse

As usual GOP candidates argue who is most conservative.

Who won the CNN Republican Debate in California?


Posted by: PollM | January 30, 2008 9:59 PM | Report abuse

sounds like pakistan and their "freedom"

freedom? Not in afganistan/pakistan. not in america. freedom is dead. In 09 we bring it back to live. It was never dead. It lived in american hearts. It was just dormante for a while

Posted by: JKrishnamurti | January 30, 2008 7:08 PM | Report abuse

""Young Democracy" in Afghanistan?
By: Siun @ 3:31 PM - PST

In the SOTU Monday night, George Bush cheered on the "young democracy" in Afghanistan:

"In Afghanistan, America, our 25 NATO allies and 15 partner nations are helping the Afghan people defend their freedom and rebuild their country. Thanks to the courage of these military and civilian personnel, a nation that was once a safe haven for al-Qaida is now a young democracy where boys and girls are going to school, new roads and hospitals are being built, and people are looking to the future with new hope.

Yet just six days ago a young Afghan reporter was sentenced to death in Afghanistan and the case points to the return of both judicial extremists and the continuing power of the warlords:

A journalist in northern Afghanistan, Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh, has been sentenced to death for blasphemy in a summary trial in which he had no legal representation and no opportunity to defend himself.

Sentencing took place in a closed session of the lower court of Balkh region on January 22.

"It was about four pm when guards brought me into a room where there were three judges and an attorney sitting behind their desks. There was no one else," Kambakhsh told IWPR.

"The death sentence had already been written. I wanted to say something, but they would not let me speak.

"They too said nothing. They just handed me a piece of paper on which it was written that I had been sentenced to death. Then armed guards came and took me out of the room, and brought me back to the prison."






Posted by: JKrishnamurti | January 30, 2008 7:06 PM | Report abuse

And so we have come full circle. McCain's rise and fall and rise is just as much the work of himself as it is of his opponents. I'll give him this, he's a fighter. Personally, I hope Romney drags this out as long as he can, or Huckabee makes an unexpected surge. More debate is good, especially for the democrats. I could use a boost after Edwards dropped out

Posted by: riff_raff17 | January 30, 2008 6:39 PM | Report abuse

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