It’s debatin’ time! Yet again! The big news hanging over this one is Chris Christie’s recent endorsement of Mitt Romney, tactically deployed the day of the debate, but there’s a lot of other stuff to look for, too. Will Newt Gingrich insult the moderators? Will Michele Bachmann look unnervingly calm the entire time? Will Jon Huntsman make an awkward joke? Will Gary Johnson and Buddy Roemer crash the debate last-minute? Here are a few things to keep an eye out for tonight during the EconDebate, a Washington Post/Bloomberg joint we’re covering with DC Decoder, which starts at 8 p.m. EST:
- Romney Vs. Hermanator The GOP field hasn’t, to this point, treated Cain as a serious threat. But with his recent polling surge, Cain now appears to be a legitimate top-tier contender and a real threat to Mitt Romney. If Romney goes on the offensive against Cain tonight, it’ll indicate that he’s bought into the hype and fears the Cain Train. On the other hand, if Romney and company give Cain a pass, it’s a sign that, polling aside, the pizza man still isn’t being taken seriously by the big dogs.
- Can Perry Save himself? This debate may well be make-or-break for Rick Perry. Despite his $17 million fundraising haul — much of which was given prior to his profoundly inept performance in the last debate — the Texas good ol’ boy is sinking like an anvil in the polls and needs something to jumpstart his campaign. A robust performance tonight could do that. An aloof, absent-minded fumbling of easy questions could put the nail in Perry’s coffin. What a difference a month makes, eh?
- the Mormon card For most of the race, Romney and Huntsman’s religion has been the elephant in the GOP primary room. Now it’s out in the open, after a prominent Perry supporter called Mormonism a “cult” at the Value Voters Summit last weekend. This question is sure to come up during the debate, and how the other candidates respond could portend the course of the campaign. If they take the bait, Mormonism may become a central campaign issue. If not, it may die down … for now.