Previewing and live-blogging the Republican Presidential Debate

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Tonight’s Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library will be the first where Rick Perry is the frontrunner — and the first where Mitt Romney is not.  Keep updateing this post for a preview of the debate and live-blogging once the action is underway.

6:35 p.m. – Debates matter, writes Matt Lewis.

Okay, they sometimes matter.

Just ask Tim Pawlenty, whose failure to rise to the occasion and challenge Mitt Romney during the New Hampshire debate seemed to seal his fate.

Tonight’s debate at the Reagan Library will kick off a series of frequent debates over the next month, or so — so it is important for the candidates to set the right tone.

It will also be the first debate that new front runner Rick Perry will participate in. Tonight could be pivotal for Perry, and the field.

Here’s what I’ll be watching for …

Michele Bachmann won the Ames, Iowa straw poll, but didn’t see much of a bounce (thanks to Perry’s entry into the race that same day). Her campaign desperately needs a shot in the arm. Bachmann is a feisty debater — as was evidenced by the skirmish she and Pawlenty engaged in during the last debate in Iowa.

My guess is she will go after Rick Perry tonight.

Fending off a female opponent can be fraught with danger (as Rick Lazio famously learned). Having recently dispatched Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in a Texas gubernatorial primary, Perry has experience in this area. But Bachmann is stylistically different from Hutchison. For one thing, she will be hitting Perry from the right.

Bachmann might just be prepping for tonight by reading Michelle Malkin’s post about Rick Perry. (Perry’s immigration stance may be the best issue Bachmann could exploit.)

4:09 p.m. – The Fix asks, “Can Rick Perry debate?”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry will take the debate stage for the first time tonight in California with everyone watching to see just how strong a frontrunner he really is for the Republican presidential nomination.

Perry has a very limited debate record from which to draw conclusions; he didn’t debate former Houston Mayor Bill White at all during the 2010 governor’s race and only debated his primary opponents once.

That makes Perry as close to an unknown commodity as exists in presidential debates. And that makes tonight’s gathering must-watch television.

Continue reading the Fix’s analysis here

2:02 p.m. – Kevin Derby reports that one of the candidates will be hitting the airwaves — and one of his fellow candidates — with a new commercial.

Besides taking part in the debate, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul will run a commercial during the telecast that takes aim at fellow Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

12:08 p.m. – The New York Times’ Caucus blog offers its own Five Things to Watch tonight.

11:02 a.m. – In advance of tonight’s GOP Presidential debate, Florida Democratic Party, based on a new analysis conducted by the Democratic National Committee, released an estimate of the number of jobs which would be lost in Florida as a result of the Republican Party’s presidential candidates support for extreme economic policies, including a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution like that included in the Tea Party budget plan passed by the U.S. House of Representatives this summer.

The DNC’s analysis found that the balanced budget amendment called for in the plan, if in place in 2012, would result in the loss of 9.5 million American jobs and more than 473,000 jobs right here in Florida. The loss of so many jobs could sink the U.S. into a depression the likes of which the country hasn’t experienced since the Great Depression.

“There’s not a Democrat, Independent or Republican that doesn’t think we need to get our fiscal house in order, but this blatant appeal to the Tea Party would do nothing more than worsen economic conditions and lead to a second dip recession,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith.

9:45 a.m. – DNC Pre-Rebuttal (via The Politco Playbook): Tea Party Economic Plan [Cut, Cap and Balance] Endorsed By GOP Presidential Field Would Cost 9.5 Million Jobs If Fully Phased In By 2012 … This new report … uses the conservative Romer-Bernstein rule of thumb that equates 1 percent of GDP to 1 million jobs. … The Tea Party economic plan endorsed by the GOP presidential field, euphemistically referred to as Cut, Cap and Balance, might make for great sound bites at a Tea Party Express rally, but based our analysis, it would be devastating to American workers and the middle class.

9:39 a.m. – 5 things to watch, from Politico’s Maggie Haberman: “1) Does Rick Perry stumble or survive? … The Texas governor has all the momentum heading into the debate, his first televised national vetting. ‘All eyes will be on Rick Perry,’ said veteran GOP strategist Scott Reed … An enduring question for Republican elites who are looking for a winner and are disenchanted with Romney: ‘Can Rick Perry take a punch in a boxing ring he’s unaccustomed to?’ … 2) Will Romney go after Perry by name? … 3) Can Bachmann break through? … Bachmann’s been searching for enough altitude to keep the race from becoming a fixed, two-man contest. … 4) Will Jon Huntsman bring his “truth telling” from the Sunday talk shows? … If he doesn’t engage, he will look wimpy. If he does, the whole ‘civility’ approach he talked about at his kickoff will be firmly put to rest – along with, potentially, his ability to galvanize support in a future race. 5) Can Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain prove that they’re relevant?”

9:25 a.m. – The Texas Tribune notes Perry has had “three weeks of superstar media treatment and a string of heavily attended fundraisers. But his opponents are circling, waiting for the opportunity the debate could provide to knock him down a notch. Perry, clearly anticipating this, went on the offensive Tuesday afternoon, sending out statements dinging two of his opponents, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. ”

9:25 a.m. – Mark McKinnon: “Perry has the least and the most to prove. And the stakes are huge. If he does okay, his status as frontrunner will be cemented. If he blows it, he could claw his way to the bottom fast. The game plan for Perry? Just come across as calm, thoughtful, and most of all, reasonable.”

9:25 a.m. – Erica Grieder: “Anyone who’s counting on Perry showing up this evening and tripping over himself, in the style of George W. Bush, is in for an unpleasant surprise. Perry has occasionally been a lazy debater and he is sometimes lackadaisical about keeping informed, but he has cultivated a number of rhetorical strengths.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, 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.