Previewing and live-blogging tonight's CNN/Tea Party Express GOP presidential debate

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CNN and the Tea Party Express, along with more than 100 local tea party groups from every state across the country, will team up Monday, September 12 to present a first-of-its-kind debate from the site of the 2012 Republican National Convention: Tampa, Florida. Eight Republican presidential contenders will face questions from moderator and lead political anchor Wolf Blitzer during the two-hour event, which will air live on CNN from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. from the Florida State Fairgrounds. The debate will focus on a wide-range of topics, including the role, size and scope of government, with a specific emphasis on issue number one to tea party members and all Americans: the economy.

7:29 p.m. – One of the major logistical problems of today’s debate setting are all the damn fences.

Temporary chainlink fences have been erected all over the fairgrounds for security. They cut access between the Entertainment Hall, where the debate will take place at 8 tonight, and where more than 100 journalists are gathered; and the Special Events Center, where the Tea Party is holding a dinner and a warmup rally; and the Equestrian Center, where Wasserman Schultz set up for the Democrat’s pre-debate rebuttle.

7:26 p.m. – Last one of these for the night: The Atlantic’s ‘what to watch for’ column.

7:01 p.m. – Just got a copy of this flyer Rick Perry is sending to every delegate to the RPOF’s ‘Presidency 5’ event.

[scribd id=64726449 key=key-26vmc7ouw9l3h8l7gpik mode=list]

4:57 p.m.– Rush Limbaugh warns Bachmann, Romney not to attack Perry for ‘Ponzi scheme’ remarks.

4:55 p.m. – Ezra Klein suggests what to watch for in tonight’s debate.

4:34 p.m. – Romney spox Andrea Saul says Rick Perry, in today’s op-ed in the USA Today, whether the federal government should even be in the business of providing pensions or whether the responsibility be turned over to the states. Romney campaign sharing this video.

4;30 p.m. – David Frum has some advice for Mitt Romney for tonight’s debate:

Either directly on the debating platform tonight – or through ads and other media in the days ahead – [Romney] must offer Republicans an advance glimpse of the campaign Barack Obama will wage against Rick Perry in 2012. It won’t be a pretty sight, but Republicans need to know the full measure of their candidate’s vulnerability before they commit to a nominee whose own words (however carelessly and unmeaningly written) will be used as evidence that the GOP wants to repeal Social Security, Medicare, and the theory of evolution.

4:24 p.m. – My best pic from the debate: CNN, Democrats to the left; Tea Party, Americans for Prosperity and the Heritage Foundation.

4:20 p.m. – Don’t think enough is being written about CNN and The Tea Party being such strange bedfellows.

4:17 p.m. – Al Cardenas booed at debate luncheon, reports Marc Caputo.

4:12 p.m. – Wolf Blitzer, oh so casual, prepping for tonight’s debate:

4:11 p.m. – I asked Florida Democratic Party Chair if there would be an advantage of facing Perry in the general election, considering his comments on Social Security.  Smith had a pretty strong response:

“Undoubtedly, Rick Perry’s comments on social security will make it tough for him to gain traction in Florida. Both Perry and Mitt Romney rubber-stamped an ideologically driven agenda that would end Medicare as we know it, erode Social Security, weaken middle-class security and eliminate millions of jobs. They offer no solutions to help Florida’s seniors and middle class families. Both of them seem to be focused on a race to the hard right which is going to make it that much harder to get back to the center where the deciding voters in this election will be.”

3:49 p.m. – Tim Pawlenty wants his former Florida supporters to, obviously, back Mitt Romney, Adam Smith reports.

3:34 p.m. – Here’s what it looks like in the media bullpen:

3:31 p.m.Another list of 5 things to watch during tonight’s debate.

3:21 p.m. – Florida Gov. Rick Scott says tonight’s debate should be about jobs:

“I think the biggest question for everybody in the country — if the Democrats were having a debate, it’d be the same same issue — it’d be about jobs. Who’s got the best blueprint for job creation?”

3:01 p.m. – Beth Reinhard yet another member of MSM to write cliched story, Florida takes its rightful place as center of the political universe.

3:00 p.m. – @PrestonCNN tweets: Giving a boost to his endorsement, La. Gov. Bobby Jindal will be Perry’s guest at the debate.

2:57 p.m. – Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will back Rick Perry for president, “a major endorsement for the Texas governor as the campaign for the Republican nomination enters the crucial fall stretch of the primary calendar,” CNN reports.

2:50 p.m. – Tim Pawlenty doing media for Mitt Romney:

2:41 p.m. – Could Rick Perry actually win on Social Security? Yes, according to Matthew Dowd: (H)e will have to clean up his language a bit–he has been calling the program a “Ponzi scheme”–but his message underscoring how broken the system is and how national leaders are not being honest with the American public will resonate with voters, especially Republican primary voters and caucus participants. Whether it was intentional or not (and sometimes in politics, the best developments are unplanned and unscripted), Perry is voicing a concern that many Republicans and independents share. And it’s a concern that many 20-year-olds also share.

2:08 p.m. – Ahead of the debate and under the backdrop of persistent national unemployment, Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Ron Paul focused on the White House’s assault on right to work laws.

1:37 p.m. – Just back from a lunchtime panel discussion on issues that matter to conservatives sponsored by the Heritage Foundation:

In remarks, Al Cardenas and Mike Franc focused on their views of the state of the country: high taxes, high debt, high foreclosures and high unemployment and declining home ownership. “There’s a growing sense that the American dream is slowly slipping away,” Franc said.

“And don’t tell me I have to buy health insurance!” Cardenas said to loud cheers.

10:28 a.m. – In advance of the Republican presidential debate in Tampa tonight, Americans United for Change released a new web video: ‘Rick Perry and Mitt Romney: Two Peas in a Pod When It Comes to Dismantling Social Security with a Bush-era Privatization Scheme, Slashing Benefits’

9:34 a.m. – The Fix offers a really novel approach for an article (sarcasm!): Florida takes center stage in 2012 campaign.

8:35 a.m. – Adam Smith has a very good point: A ton of political operatives and political reporters will descend on the state fairgrounds in Tampa on Monday for the CNN-Tea Party Express Republican presidential debate. And afterward? The casino is a stone’s throw away. This debate may generate some creative expense accounts.

8:00 a.m. – There’s plenty of activity in Tampa today leading up to and even following tonight’s CNN/tea party debate at the Florida State Fairgrounds.

7:50 a.m. – Politico offers 6 things to watch for in tonight’s debate:

“I don’t think Romney is going to take his foot off the gas, especially in Florida, on Social Security,” said veteran Republican strategist Tony Fabrizio. “In fact, we may see him trot out something else…[and] Perry’s trying to prove that he’s not like the rest of these guys. He’ll upset the apple cart and he’s not afraid to upset the apple cart because that’s what’s needed right now.”

7:44 a.m. – Tim Pawlenty endorses Mitt Romney while on ‘Fox & Friends.’

7:35 a.m. – The Tampa Tribune‘s Steve Otto thinks it would be nice if everyone would stick around after the party is over and maybe make the rounds of restaurants and barbershops on Tuesday so that the locals might ask the candidates some real questions.

7:33 a.m. – DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and others to be announced later, will hold a press conference on Monday, September 12, at 4:00 pm in the Pavilion on the State Fairgrounds in Tampa, FL in advance of the CNNTea Party Express GOP Presidential debate.

7:32 a.m. – The Washington Examiner: “It’s no secret the Bachmann camp was unhappy with the moderators of last Wednesday’s Republican debate at the Reagan Library, a debate which began as a Perry-Romney showdown and gave less time to other candidates.  This time, in Tampa, it seems safe to predict that moderators will ask at least some other candidates whether they agree with Perry’s characterization of Social Security.”

7:29 a.m. – The Hotline: “If you think the spat between Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney over Social Security is heated now, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The tone of the back-and-forth between the rival campaigns has grown noticeably sharper since Wednesday’s debate, with Perry’s characterization of Social Security as a ‘Ponzi scheme’ serving as the catalyst for their escalating dispute. The Romney campaign now sees a golden opportunity to leverage the issue — one of immense importance to elderly voters — during the next two debates, both of which will take place in senior-heavy Florida. Romney smells blood on the issue; watch for him to circle the wagons Monday in Tampa.”

7:11 a.m. – In advance of tonight’s debate, CNN has released its latest poll of the GOP field.  With Sarah Palin in the field, Rick Perry leads with 30%, then Mitt Romney with 18%, then Sarah Palin 15%, then Ron Paul 12%, then Herman Cain and Newth Gingrich with 5%, then Michele Bachmann with 4%.

Without Sarah Palin in the field, the poll goes: Perry 32%, Mitt Romney 21%, Ron Paul 13%, Michele Bachmann 7%, Newt Gingrich 7%, Herman Cain 6% and Jon Huntsman 2%.

11:49 p.m. – Tea Partiers are coming from as far away as Napa Valley.

11:40 p.m. – The Daily Beast‘s Howard Kurtz writes that Michelle Bachmann needs to use the debate to get off the sidelines and back into the game.

11:31 p.m. – CNN’s Don Lemon previews the debate:

11:29 p.m. – Here’s what the debate stage will look like:

8:43 p.m. – Marc Caputo opines that, for the next month, the clear loser in Florida will be President Obama:

The Republicans will control the microphone throughout the debates, forum and straw poll. Amid all that, they’ll likely continue pounding the president on the economy at fundraisers, rallies and in interviews with stations, newspapers and bloggers throughout the state. “It’ll make a difference because Florida isn’t just any state. Whoever wins Florida or Ohio wins the White House,” said Gene Ulm, a pollster for Washington-based Public Opinion Strategies, a firm that polls for Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Sept. 11 – Michelle Bachmann was uncharacteristically muted at a debate last week in California while Mr. Perry and former Gov. Mitt Romneylit into one another as if they were the only two candidates on stage. Moderators from MSNBC and Politico played into the storyline by returning to them repeatedly and giving each ample time to rebut the other. It wasn’t until 14 minutes into the debate that Mrs. Bachmann got to speak.

Monday night’s debate offers Mrs. Bachmann the chance to rejoin the conversation but attention will naturally be focused on Mr. Perry and Mr. Romney, who are engaging in a war of words over Mr. Perry’s criticism of Social Security as “a Ponzi scheme” and “a monstrous lie.” In recent days, Mrs. Bachmann has tried to join the fray, indirectly taking on Mr. Perry over the issue, signaling a more confrontational strategy.

Sept. 11 – Florida sparkles in GOP presidential contenders’ eyes: The Republican presidential race suddenly looks like a three-person battle between Texas Gov. Perry, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. But as the focus of the contest soon shifts to Florida, Perry and Bachmann are invisible in the state while Romney has an expansive political network still in place since his campaign here four years ago.

Sept. 11 – One well-connected Florida Republican strategist, speaking anonymously to preserve relations with the candidates, predicted: “If Perry doesn’t correct the way he’s talking about Social Security, he’s toast.” The governor will get an opportunity Monday night, when he and seven other GOP contenders meet in a CNN/Tea Party Express debate in Tampa.

Sept. 11 – A good read from the Star-Telegram: “Perry likely to be targeted again

Sept. 10 – Members of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition, the Black Democratic Caucus and other liberal groups hold a protest outside the CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential candidates debate at the state fairgrounds in Tampa Monday.

“A broad coalition of concerned citizens, civil rights activists, labor unionists, elected officials and clergy are organizing a Rally of Conscience” on voting rights, student loan debt, “and providing authentic plans, like the President has done, for putting Americans back to work and rebuilding the nation’s economy,” said an announcement of the event from Rev. Charles McKenzie of St. Petersburg, an NAACP official who’s also state coordinator for Rainbow Push.

Jackson apparently won’t attend, but Rainbow Push national field director Tavis Grant will, McKenzie said. The rally will start at 6 p.m. at the fairgrounds, he said.



Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.