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FixCam: Republican Debate Preview

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Tonight's Republican debate in Florida is the last time the top-tier candidates will share a stage before the Sunshine State's increasingly critical primary on Tuesday.

Two independent polls released in the last 24 hours seem to cast the Florida race as a two-man affair between Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. A St. Petersburg Times poll put McCain at 25 percent to Romney's 23 percent; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee took 15 percent each. A Mason-Dixon survey for the Orlando Sentinel put Romney in the lead at 30 percent, followed by McCain at 26 percent, Giuliani at 18 percent and Huckabee at 13 percent.

With those polls as a backdrop, here's what we expect to hear out of the four leading candidates tonight:

* John McCain: The nominal frontrunner heading into tonight's debate, McCain would love for the 90 minutes to pass without any news being made. To date, McCain's rivals for the nomination have largely avoided attacking him in any direct manner and, when Romney has gone at McCain, Huckabee and Giuliani (as well as former candidate Fred Thompson) have leapt to the Arizona senator's defense. If that dynamic holds tonight, McCain will be sitting pretty heading into Florida's vote on Tuesday and the Feb. 5 primaries to follow.

* Mitt Romney: Given the ups and down of the stock market in recent days, much of the debate will likely be spent on economic issues -- Romney's wheelhouse. When The Post conducted focus groups in Iowa back in mid-December, Romney's experience in the private sector was mentioned favorably time and again by the participants. Expect Romney to hit hard on the idea that he alone in the field has had to manage a business and, in his words, "know why jobs come and why they go." The x-factor for Romney is how Huckabee and Giuliani treat him. Will they gang up on him as they have in debates past? Or help him drive the attack against McCain?

* Rudy Giuliani: Hizzoner's Florida firewall is failing if you believe the two polls cited above. Giuliani showed there is still some life in his campaign by putting up an ad on television that distinguishes him as the only top-tier candidate in favor of the National Catastrophe Fund. (We bashed Giuliani in this space yesterday for making this a Web-only ad at first.) Giuliani must put aside his personal distaste for drawing stark contrasts and tell viewers tonight why he is the best choice for Florida. Short of that, it may be one and done for America's Mayor.

* Mike Huckabee: Although Huckabee insists he is "in it to win it" when it comes to Florida's primary, the facts on the ground tell a different story. He has a skeleton organization in the state and has yet to run a single television commercial there. Huckabee's focus seems to be on emerging as the southern conservative in the field heading into Feb. 5, a task made far easier when Thompson dropped from the race earlier this week. Huckabee will likely focus heavily on his southern roots and social conservative views tonight to make a play for voters in places like Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Alabama -- all of which vote on Feb. 5.

Make sure to check this space later tonight for updates and thoughts from the proceedings. The debate gets started at 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 24, 2008; 6:30 PM ET
Categories:  FixCam  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Why Kucinich Dropped Out Now
Next: Economy Dominates Early Going


Gee, I could have sworn there were five people in the debate. I need to have my eyes checked. Ron Paul has been ahead of Guilliani for some time, but you had Guilliani in fourth. You probably had your top tier glasses on and missed him.

Posted by: RedRose1 | January 25, 2008 9:34 PM | Report abuse

CC, don't ever lose the beard.

In fact, you are now simply "the beard" to me, not CC or Chris or Cillizza or anything like that.

Wear it with honor.

Posted by: thecrisis | January 25, 2008 11:55 AM | Report abuse


You are a FOOL to think any real Libertarian would ever vote for Obama or Clinton. HA.

Posted by: ryan.crowley | January 25, 2008 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Paul supporters are welcome in obama's camp, if they choose. paul is right about foreign policy. so if that is your issue join with obama. As far as domestic, Paul is a dying breed. Nothing wrong with that. But majority rule. Compromise. Obama could use you paul supporters. Show the world the gop is wrong about you. You are not irrelevant. You now have power. Don't waste it on the gop. Come tot eh light side.

Posted by: JKrishnamurti | January 25, 2008 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Ron Paul drop out?

He has more money than Benito and the Huckster, can equal McCain and continues despite the best efforts of the MSM, to ever so annoyingly show up the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse as the phonies they are.

In what increasingly looks to be a brokered convention, Dr Paul may end up wih some trump cards to play.

Posted by: jtflynn | January 24, 2008 10:26 PM | Report abuse

MDH answered on the stimulus package inventively. It was different than the standard litany. If you did not see, I expect it will be available on the internet later.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | January 24, 2008 9:23 PM | Report abuse

I think The Huckster is the one to watch tonight. Looking ahead to Saturday, For Rudy, he must win or he is done.-McCain and Mitt should lead the ticket, but in case The Huckster pulls a surprise he is done as well, and Ron Paul was/is about the same as Dennis of the Dems and he is quitting.

Posted by: lylepink | January 24, 2008 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Ron Paul supporters: what do you think you folks will do when the primaries are wrapped up? Go with the GOP nominee? Take a long look at the Libertarian or Constitution party nominees? Sit it out?

Posted by: novamatt | January 24, 2008 8:45 PM | Report abuse

Bill Clinton has once again brought shame to the office of the presidency. We should have let the Republicans run him out of office when they wanted to. I guess they knew him better. He fooled us all. If Hillary wins I will vote for McCain. I don't agree with him on the war but at least he doesn't make my skin crawl.

Posted by: Sue6 | January 24, 2008 8:41 PM | Report abuse

Whoops. "Accidentally" forgot about Ron Paul once again! What is journalistic integrity anyway when you have plenty of financial powerhouses funding a media blackout. Did you think nobody would take notice? Paul has done better in every primary than Giuliani has, but you still insist on deleting his name. Given Paul's wide reaching aims at restructuring corruption, I am not surprised Wash Post Co (ABC) is a part of the censorship.

Washington Post, we know the deal and we are taking notes.

Chris Cillizza, you are a scumbag for bending backwards for your editors.

This kind of journalism makes me sick.

Posted by: antarcticdesigns | January 24, 2008 8:32 PM | Report abuse

It seems that when "Romney comes, jobs go."

Posted by: FKoretz | January 24, 2008 8:15 PM | Report abuse

How do jobs come and go? - When Romney comes, jobs go!

Posted by: FKoretz | January 24, 2008 8:08 PM | Report abuse

It's unfortunate that the media has not given proper coverage to Ron Paul, but perhaps more disappointing are comments from the likes of ChrisFox8 who are even more ignorant to Ron Paul's success thus far.

While Ron Paul may seem radical to some, his true republican stances are admirable and deserve more coverage.

I remember early on Fox wrote off Ron Paul despite consistently finishing in the top 3 for many of Fox's polls.

It's disheartening to see the media negatively influencing this debate by not giving enough coverage to all the candidates, like Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich.

Posted by: FranciscoRoark | January 24, 2008 7:51 PM | Report abuse

"California Court: Loss of Job Can Be Side Effect of Medical Marijuana",2933,325354,00.html

What happened to states rights, gop. Frickin activist judges. :)

States rights my as*. hypocrite fascsits. Enjoy your fascist reign while it lasts gop. Eventually it will break. Maybe now maybe lately. But eventually america will be free once again. You fascists sabotuers have divided and conquered your people long enough

Posted by: JKrishnamurti | January 24, 2008 7:38 PM | Report abuse

the link










Posted by: JKrishnamurti | January 24, 2008 7:23 PM | Report abuse

"UPDATE: GLAAD has started a petition asking Fox News "why they continue to provide a platform for John Gibson's cruel and tasteless comments."

UPDATE II: Perez Hilton identifies a list of Fox News' current advertisers."

aNY HELP GETTING THE FOXS AND RUSHS OFF THE AIR IS MUCH NEEDED AND MUCH APPRECIATED. It not just one group they attack. It's all groups not ecactly like them.

for all the gop's attacks on the liberals and socialists. Socialism is a form of govnerment. The gop? Fascism? Fascism is a state of control. Big differance.

Posted by: JKrishnamurti | January 24, 2008 7:22 PM | Report abuse

No doubt that Huck and Giuliani have the most to gain and/or lose in the debate. It's their final stand against the cash of Romney and the electability of McCain.

Posted by: parkerfl | January 24, 2008 7:18 PM | Report abuse

Chrisfox, you might be interested in knowing that Ron Paul has beat Thompson and Giuliani in the primaries so far and just got second in Nevada. There is no logic behind putting Giuliani at the forefront and failing to mention Paul entirely. This censorship shows a lack of honest journalism.

Posted by: hoya937 | January 24, 2008 6:50 PM | Report abuse

In New Hampshire, 44 percent of the voters in the Democratic primary called themselves independents. In the Republican primary, 37 percent were independents and 40 percent of that crowd went for John McCain.

Who do you believe is the Democrats' worst nightmare is?


Posted by: PollM | January 24, 2008 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Why should anyone pay serious attention to Ron Paul? You may as well ask why Alan Keyes isn't getting the same billing as Baghdad Market John McCain. The answer for both is the same: they have too many loony positions to be taken at all seriously.

And that's too bad, because Paul has some of the more responsible positions .. along with all the most irresponsible ones. "Abolish the IRS" must get him free drinks in some blue-collar taverns, though.

Having a gas watching these dwarves competing to carry on the policies of history's worst president.

Anyway thanks again to fellow Chris this one Cillizza, for the best campaign commentary on the web.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | January 24, 2008 6:43 PM | Report abuse

I think there are five candidates participating in tonight's debate. Is there a reason you keep ignoring Ron Paul, but you're covering Rudy Giuliani?

Posted by: Fred | January 24, 2008 6:36 PM | Report abuse

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