Front-runners Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann will likely be the targets of their fellow Republican presidential candidates at Thursday night’s debate in Iowa, political observers agree.
President Barack Obama will of course be the number one target of the eight GOP hopefuls at the debate in Iowa City, sponsored by the Iowa Republican party and Fox News and scheduled for 9 p.m. Eastern time.
But with Romney leading in most polls and Bachmann close behind, the other six candidates in the debate will need to take the two down a peg if they hope to gain traction going forward to Saturday’s straw poll in Ames, Iowa, and ultimately the Iowa caucuses and primaries in other states.
The six are Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Time Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, and Rick Santorum.
|Mitt Romney chats up Iowans in Des Moines Wednesday. (AP)
Politico on Thursday raised the question “who will be the first to go after Romney unprompted?” and also questioned “whether they do it without one of the panelists paving the path with a question about healthcare, Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital or any other Romney-centric topics.”
Romney’s fellow Mormon Huntsman “has as much cause as anyone to take him on” given that the two are focusing heavily on the New Hampshire primary, Politico noted.
But Pawlenty is “another likely suspect,” and Bachmann may hit Romney with a “topical assault — like the front-runner’s absence during the debt ceiling debate until after it was over.”
The Washington Post also opined that Huntsman will need to go on the attack against Romney.
“Tonight, [Huntsman’s] task is to become a relevant candidate,” The Post observed on Thursday. “To do that he will need to challenge Mitt Romney.
“Huntsman has to begin to answer this question tonight: Why back him instead of Romney?”
At Thursday night’s debate “it will be interesting to see whether Romney’s rivals think it’s about time that he gets down in the mud and wrestles a bit,” The New York Times stated in its the Caucus blog.
“The political punches could come from Tim Pawlenty and Mr. Huntsman, who are eager to see their poll numbers rise, or from Michele Bachmann, who might envision a future in which the two of them battle for the nomination down to the wire.
“For Romney’s part, the question is whether he can spend the two hours remaining above the Republican fray and continuing to focus his attacks on President Obama.”
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, echoed that thought, saying the worst thing Romney can do at the debate is “getting drawn into a brawl with other candidates, especially the undercard contenders. Doesn’t look presidential.”
The GOP candidates will also focus their attacks on tea party favorite Bachmann, political analysts say.
|Michele Bachmann courts voters in Clive, Iowa. (AP)
Bachmann did well in the earlier GOP debate, but she “will face far more scrutiny in tonight’s debate — from the moderators and her fellow candidates — than in the June get-together,” The Post reported.
Craig Robinson, a former Iowa Republican Party political director, told The Hill: “She’s the one who has to worry about a gaffe. The last debate came easily for her, highlighted her strengths. This debate, after being on the campaign trail, there’s plenty of material they could go into and ask her about.”
Pawlenty has “incentive to take shots at Bachmann, the straw poll competitor whom he’s criticized for being a fire-breathing activist with few real accomplishments to her name,” according to Politico.
“She can’t just sit back and absorb any body blows Pawlenty tries to land.
“Her biggest hurdle might be the inevitable question about her migraines, a story that dominated the race for three days but ultimately faded from view.
“It remains to be seen how she addresses the topic in a serious forum.”
Bachmann’s challenge will be to steer a course that satisfies both the GOP establishment and the tea party base, according to The Times.
“In her first debate appearance, she did that well, impressing Republican insiders and donors while not disappointing her core supporters.
“Can she do it again?”
Sabato said that for Bachmann, the worst thing that could happen when she is fielding questions is “any gaffe on history or public policy.”
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