This worked pretty well in Ames, Iowa so let's do it again. Here are my pre- and post-debate impressions.
This is down to three people. There will be eight candidates on the stage, but only three matter anymore: Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachman.
- Rep. Michele Bachman
Much as she had to do in New Hampshire at the first debate, Michele Bachman has to show she belongs in the top tier (again?). Winning the Iowa Straw Poll may prove to be a Pyrrhic victory, as Gov. Rick Perry's entry into the race on that same day cast a Texas-size shadow over the political landscape and the loss of her two top operatives this past week cast a shadow over her campaign.
Nevertheless, Bachman showed she can more than hold her own in the first two debates. She may decide to lay low for the first 30-45 minutes and see how Perry and Romney react toward each other, but at some point she has to get herself back into this game.
- Gov. Mitt Romney
Romney has had more-or-less a free ride in the debates to this point, but that was largely because he didn't need to do much. In each of the first two debates Bachman and Gov. Tim Pawlenty made news: Bachman because she performed well, Pawlenty because he didn't.
Romney, as the front-runner has been able to rise above it sort of a parent watching the kids have a dunking contest in the country club pool; ready to intercede if necessary, but perfectly willing to stay dry if not.
This is different in that Perry's shadow has blocked out the sun for Romney as well as Bachman. Romney doesn't have to throw a knock-out punch tonight, but he probably wants to begin selling the line that of all the candidates on stage - notwithstanding the Tea Party movement - he's the only one who can beat President Obama next Fall.
- Gov. Rick Perry
For someone not named "Sarah Palin," Perry has certainly upset the old applecart. Since he got into the race just over three weeks ago, he has been the topic of conversation and, has climbed to the top of the polling. That, as we know, translates into dollars raised which translates into staff hired, and infrastructure built.
Perry has more to lose than anyone else tonight because he hasn't participated in any previous debates and a significant portion of the GOP electorate will be watching to see if he can stand up to Bachman and Romney over the 105 minutes.