The only candidates that matter at this point are Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain.
I know this will draw 23,372 emails about Ron Paul but he is what he is which is not a potential nominee of the Republican party.
With that in mind, what do the big three have to do?
Rick Perry: I'm not as certain as everyone else that this is "make-or-break" for Perry, notwithstanding that it is such a perfect rhyme.
Perry has plenty of money and it is unlikely he is going away. He has the advantage of Herman Cain's ascension to the top, or near the top, of the Republican stack over the past two weeks so, for the first debate since he announce, Rick Perry isn't the Piñata-in-Chief.
Perry has had enough time to work with his staff on the best way to answer the questions which have vexed him in the previous debates, so he should have his answers down pat. A major challenge for the Governor will be to keep his energy level up after the first hour - something he has not been able to do so far.
Herman Cain: Who knew? Cain is not a joke. He is a successful businessman and has a keen sense of himself. He has had the advantage, in the previous debates, of not being taken seriously so he could espouse his 9-9-9 plan and none of the other candidates bothered to examine him on it.
After he won the Florida straw poll, he immediately shot to the top tier of candidates and so is likely to be the target of the minor candidates who have nothing to lose.
We'll see if he adopts a tactic of attacking Romney and/or Perry in his new role as a major player.
Mitt Romney: Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry had very impressive launches but their second stages have flamed out. Herman Cain might be able to change that pattern, but through it all Governor Romney has been circling the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour waiting for someone to join him in orbit.
Romney has been able to wait out Bachmann and then Perry. We'll see if he can wait out Cain.
All Romney has to do tonight is not make a major mistake. After doing this for four years, he appears to be comfortable in his role.
Michele Bachmann: New hairdo - up, not down. New suit color - white, not red. Same result. Zero.
In the "Ask-Each-Other" segment, Michele Bachmann asked her question of Rick Perry. Why? Because her husband, Marcus, probably thought that was a REALLY good idea. It wasn't.
Ron Paul: Still right on a lot of issues. Still not going to be the nominee. In the "Ask-Each-Other" segment he turned his ire from his formally favorite target, Rick Perry, to his new favorite target, Herman Cain.
Jon Huntsman: Do yourself a favor. Go run the family business.
Newt Gingrich: See Ron Paul. Says good things, says smart things, but it's time to pack it in.
Rick Santorum: Enough, already.
Rick Perry: Was invisible for the first hour. Was largely invisible for the second hour. In the "Ask-Each-Other" segment went back to quizzing Romney on health care in Massachusetts. Romney was ready for that treated it like Perry was pitching batting practice and Romney was taking his cuts.
Herman Cain: Stayed with his 9-9-9 plan at every opportunity. He didn't appear to do any damage, but with his constantly referring to his tax plan, he didn't move his campaign ahead.
Mitt Romney: Still orbiting the Earth waiting for someone to reach him. No one did it last night.
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