10 Things to Look for in the Republican Debates

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With the Iowa caucuses just a few short months away, Republican debate season is heating up. The NBC News/Politico and CNN/Tea Party debates are in the books, and now we anxiously await the Fox News/Google debate on September 22. Of course, viewers will be able to submit questions to the candidates, and Google will use its extensive resources to provide context for viewers, making the entire television presentation informative yet easy to digest. If you haven't already suffered from information overload, and haven't had the opportunity to watch the most recent debates, then scan through these 10 things to look for in the next debate (and those in the future).

  1. Perry vs. Romney

    The race has clearly come down to these two heavyweights — the current governor of Texas and the former governor of Massachusetts and 2008 presidential candidate. Perry is perceived by many Republicans as more genuinely conservative than Romney, who still struggles to overcome his reputation as a "flip-flopper." Neither is 100 percent trusted by the base, which is driven by the Tea Party. Currently, it's a battle of who demonstrates the most solid conservative credentials and who has the best potential to unseat Obama.

  2. Does Perry have a clear platform?

    Candidates like to be intentionally vague when it comes to their platforms, and Perry is certainly no exception. While we know that he's a social conservative, he hasn't taken the same directs stances as Bachmann or Santorum on issues such as evolution, gay marriage and abortion, probably to avoid being painted as an unelectable "extremist." His stance on social security, which he called a "Ponzi scheme," was likely disconcerting to older voters.

  3. Will Romney effectively paint Perry as removed from the mainstream?

    During the CNN/Tea Party debate, Perry modified his comments by assuring current social security recipients they wouldn't have anything to worry about. Further attacking him on the issue, Romney reminded Perry that he once said the program was a mistake, but Perry only took it as an opportunity to assail the New Deal. Trailing in the race, Romney will continue the attacks on Perry. The question is, will Perry respond well enough consistently to avoid making it a close race?

  4. Will Perry survive the onslaught concerning his HPV mandate?

    Romney can potentially thank Bachmann for magnifying Perry's weak spot. During the CNN/Tea Party debate, she charged that his attempt to mandate the human papillomavirus vaccine for sixth-grade girls — an action itself that, though not completely true (see below), may offend small government conservatives and social conservatives who value parental rights — was backed by Merck, which gave at least $23,500 in campaign contributions to the governor. The drug company has also donated $500,000 to the Republican Governors Association, one of Perry's biggest financial supporters.

  5. Will Romney continue to attack Obama?

    It's important for Romney to tear down his opponents now, but what about his ultimate opponent? The one thing Romney has going for him is his electability, an asset that actually helped McCain secure the nomination in the last presidential election. Can he assert himself as a clear opponent to Obama, as he did during the NBC News/Politico debate? Recently, when he outlined his economic plan, he stated that Obama "doesn't have a clue what do about the economy" — true fighting words and an indicator that he could be back to targeting the president.

  6. Will Romney begin to strenuously woo support from the Tea Party?

    Many of the candidates past and present have invested copious amounts of time and money in winning the approval of the Tea Party. Merely extolling the virtues of the Constitution and calling everything Obama does "unconstitutional" during the debates, however, is probably not enough. Romney has recently increased his efforts to cozy up to the group, realizing his now somewhat precarious position in the race. That could mean he'll have to stop defending his Massachusetts healthcare plan, which his opponents have been vociferously using against him. Is he willing to compromise his moderate appearance to the general electorate to appeal to a much smaller group?

  7. What will Bachmann say?

    Wounding Perry with the HPV attacks may have been Bachmann's best work of her campaign. At the very least, she has provided entertainment amid her wooden, stodgy career-politician counterparts. Her numerous gaffes and controversial quotes have made her appear as an extremist, and the media has had a field day as a result. Infamously, Newsweek featured her on its cover with a photo in which she's wide-eyed and thus crazy-looking, calling her "the Queen of Rage." Regardless of how she's depicted, she's not afraid to be herself — and people crave authenticity.

  8. What will Paul say?

    Paul also has no shot to win the race and knows it, but he will continue to stick to his guns on the issues. Such was the case during the CNN/Tea Party debate, in which he explained that the September 11th attacks occurred because of America's occupation of foreign countries, eliciting boos from the crowd. While Paul's advocacy of non-interventionism is hardly an extreme position, it's an easy point of attack for his opponents. Yet, he remains undaunted.

  9. Is there any fight left in Newt?

    There's one word that describes both Newt and his campaign right now — irrelevant. At one time, prior to when he was dumped by his campaign staff, he was a sexy pick to steal the nomination. He has performed steadily during the debates, and garnered supportive applause in Tampa when he criticized his opponents for their infighting. However, he has yet to assert himself as a standout candidate, and, as a result, has become stale — his accomplishments from the '90s will only take him so far.

  10. How many more misleading comments will be made?

    Politicians love stretching the truth, which is why you have to examine these debates with a critical eye. For example, according to FactCheck.org (linked here), Bachmann's claims that Perry essentially "forced" young girls to receive the drug were not true, as the order included an option for parents to opt-out. Perry certainly wasn't above the fray either. He claimed that he created 1 million jobs while governor as Obama oversaw the loss of 2.5 million jobs. Of course, Perry has been governor since December 2000, and Obama has been in office since January 2009, a period in which Perry has created — or has been present for the creation of, depending on where you stand on the issue — 95,600 new jobs. Quite a difference.

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