The fix on tonight’s debate

Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post’s blog “The Fix” previews tonight’s debate among the Republican presidential candidates. Cillizza provides his view of the stakes for each candidate and what they need to accomplish.
The stakes seem highest for Mitt Romney. The images of Giuliani and McCain are already well-formed, though they undoubtedly can use some polishing with the Republican base. Other than Romney, the other participants appear to be “pretenders.” But Romney has the financial resources to contend, is not doing badly in Iowa and New Hampshire, and is flirting with double digits in the national popularity polls. Having finally built a little momentum, this is his chance to introduce himself to many Republican voters on his own terms, not in a YouTube circulated by his enemies or opponents.
Romney is smart and engaging enough to take advantage of this opportunity. However, these debates take on a life of their own, and it’s rarely possible to predict with confidence which candidates will do well. Who would have thought that Al Gore, who had trounced Ross Perot in a debate on free trade, would do so poorly against George Bush? Who would have predicted that Ronald Reagan, who did so well against Jimmy Carter in 1980, would struggle against Walter Mondale in 1984? And these were one-on-one debates. A “group grope” like tonight’s event seems even harder to predict.
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