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Do-or-Die tonight: Perry, Santorum, Newt & Huntsman.

Tonight is the final debate that will take place before people gear up for the Christmas season.  It is a big deal for two reasons.  First, the Iowa Caucuses are five weeks away.  Whoever wins Iowa will be the lone candidate with a chance to take on Romney after his New Hampshire win.  Second, this debate is do-or-die for every candidate that isn’t named Newt or Mitt.  Those are the two guys with the momentum.  If none of the other candidates can create any momentum for themselves tonight, they should drop out tomorrow as there really isn’t enough time left to raise their standing. 

Whoever wins the debate tonight will have the benefit of positive press throughout the weekend while people flip through their TV’s, catch news on airport and restaurant televisions and listen to the radio while traveling.  Many families will be discussing politics around the Thanksgiving dinner table.  If a candidate can create buzz for himself tonight, he will be the one being discussed at the dining room table, therefore it is imperative that every candidate bring their A game tonight. 

Tonight Mitt Romney will perform well as he always does.  He has taken the day off from campaigning in order to practice and prepare.  But conservatives remain unimpressed and tonight, may be our last chance to avoid Newt or Mitt. 

The debate is on foreign policy.  With the exception of Ron Paul, it will likely be a contest to see who can beat the war drums the loudest to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.  Hopefully we can learn more.  There are four things conservatives need out of tonight’s debate. 

4.) Jon Huntsman. 

Jon Huntsman has to win New Hampshire and he knows it.  While foreign policy probably isn’t a big issue with his base, it is the one subject that he has more experience with than anyone else on stage.  Tonight will be his last shot at encouraging the primary electorate that he is a true conservative and to demonstrate why his record proves he is ready to be POTUS. 

Huntsman currently has no path to victory, but a lot of people admire his record and in this environment that could be enough.  If he is to have any chance, tonight is his last chance to show us why he can appeal to conservatives as well as Romney’s people.  He doesn’t want to go negative but he may have to, otherwise Romney (his only opponent) remains unscathed.  Tonight is his last chance to gain traction; otherwise he should schedule a concession speech with Anderson Cooper following the debate.   

3.) Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum has almost no support in the polls.  Yet he is a conservative running in a primary where the electorate is searching for a conservative.  He hasn’t been able to break through the wall and be taken seriously although he was a two-term U.S. Senator.  The reason why is obvious and the same reason why he lost his Senate seat by a whopping 18 percentage points.  While Santorum articulates conservatism better than anyone onstage, he has so far been unable to articulate it positively as Herman Cain and Mike Huckabee did so convincingly.  Santorum’s confrontational tone and un-presidential poise have left primary voters unimpressed.  Tonight is Santorum’s last chance to have a breakout performance.  He needs to smile rather than smirk and lay out a positive message for the American people.  Under scrutiny, Newt will tank and Santorum could be the recipient of his support by peaking at the right time.  But he has to bring a better tone to the debate.  Santorum is the only one that can set his tone.  If he can do that, he has a long shot of uniting the party.  A positive performance is key for him.  If he doesn’t come out the clear winner, it’s over.   

2.) Newt Gingrich. 

Newt is the current conservative frontrunner.  His aggressive attacks against the infamous story of him serving papers on his cancer-stricken wife in the hospital has been largely successful.  He is better equipped to handle scandal than Herman Cain.  But there is much more to attack Newt on.  At different times in his life he has been a political hypocrite, adulterer, lobbyist, healthcare mandate proponent, opponent of the Paul Ryan budget, millionaire and a number of other things that give conservatives indigestion. 

Republicans can bet that the lead stories in December will be whether he served divorce papers on his wife in-or-out of the hospital, how much money he spent at Tiffany’s on his current wife, etc.  When it’s over, Newt is going to be torn to shreds.  But if Newt can coalesce the base around himself, there is a rocky path to victory for him.  If he can’t consolidate, conservatives will still be looking to get married, and there is a crack of a window of opportunity for . . . .

1.) Rick Perry. 

Rick Perry has had a strong comeback since his terrible debate gaffe.  There have been two debate forums since the debate that will not be named.  He has done excellent in both.  Tonight is the first prime time week day debate since that fateful night.  It is Perry’s night to shine.  Even if Newt is the frontrunner, people aren’t excited about him and his support will likely to fall to someone else.  The base could still get excited about Perry, in fact they still are.  Read the redstate blogs, people are pulling for him.  But he doesn’t have much time.    

Tonight, Rick Perry needs the best debate performance of his life.  If he can blow the base away, the grassroots will take him on a second date and the nomination could once again be his to win or lose.  We have seen hints of brilliant debate performances from Perry in the past; tonight we need two hours of that mainstream libertarianism performance.  The pressure is on him.  It is no longer good enough to answer a question while glancing at the ceiling.  Tonight every Perry statement must be clear, concise and with eye contact directed toward the camera. 

If Perry can successfully do those simple things, he will breathe new life into his campaign.  He has the war chest to win Iowa and South Carolina.  He has the looks of a president and the personality of someone you would have a beer with.  The media will never forget his debate gaffe, but people that vote will, if he pulls out an A+ performance tonight.  But he has to stay on message, not worry about Romney and remind us why he is one of the most successful governors in the United States.  If Perry can do all of these things, he becomes the heir apparent of Newt’s supporters.

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