In what has already been a tumultuous presidential campaign, the next seven days is critical for all of the presidential candidates. The next week presents candidates with multiple opportunities to gain traction, and some could also see their chances at winning the nominate slip through their fingers.
In the next seven days, both ABC New and Fox News will hold major primetime debates in Iowa. The ABC News debate is particularly interesting. The debate is limited to just six candidates. Jon Huntsman’s inability to qualify for the debate and Herman Cain’s exit from the race means that the debate stage will be left to just six candidates, all of whom need a strong Iowa finish.
In between the ABC News Debate and the Fox News debate is a pro-life candidate forum hosted by Mike Huckabee, the 2008 winner of the Iowa caucuses. With Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum all vying for the support of social conservatives, a good performance at the forum is incredibly important.
Four years ago, the Des Moines Register debate was the only major event right before the caucuses. Not only was it a joke of a debate, but it was also held during the day at a time when most people couldn’t watch. The structure of the debate also benefited the frontrunner by limiting the issue set, while it also handcuffed the challengers by not giving them opportunities to engage other candidates. The ABC and Fox News debates are professionally organized debates that may alter the entire contest. As such, the next seven days can make or break a campaign.
Here are the hazards and opportunities that lie ahead for each candidate.
If Gingrich ever needed a strong debate performance, it is now. While Gingrich has used strong debate performances to get back into the race in the past, the task at hand is different now. No longer can Gingrich rip into debate moderators or say outlandish things to get attention. Gingrich is now the frontrunner in the race, and as such, he needs to appear presidential and serious.
Over the past week, Gingrich has become the target of not only his Republican opponents, but also of his old political foes like former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Everything from his support of TARP, healthcare mandates, and his position issues like the Second Amendment and immigration have been highlighted. Gingrich’s multiple marriage and personal business dealings have also been brought to light.
Gingrich is going to be featured at center stages, and he not only will have to look and sound presidential, but he’s going to have to withstand a barrage of questions about himself. If he stands firm and keeps his cool, all will be fine, if there is blood on the stage after Saturday night’s debate, it’s anybody’s ballgame.
In all of the debates to date, Ron Paul has not had any expectations to perform well. Paul has been the most aggressive candidate in calling out Gingrich’s record, and thus may be given the opportunity to challenge the frontrunner directly in one of the debates. Paul must be able to articulate the same message that his ads do so well in sixty seconds.
Paul would also be wise to steer clear of any foreign policy confrontations with any of the other candidates. Raising this issue gains Paul nothing in terms of support. It only solidifies his anti-interventionist base. Paul is in contention in Iowa, and so he must attack Gingrich like everyone else. He also needs to continue to be strong on fiscal issues, which has great appeal among the electorate.
The bevy of political pundits that always declares Mitt Romney the winner of the debate because he didn’t get carted off of the stage will actually have to pay attention to the next two debates. Romney may think that he doesn’t need Iowa, but he desperately needs to create some momentum. He also needs to weaken Gingrich because if Gingrich gets out of the debates unscathed, he’s going to be very difficult to beat, and not just in Iowa.
With Congressman Steve King and Bob Vander Plaats’ endorsements remaining elusive, Santorum needs create his own breakout moment. Like Gingrich, Santorum has been impressive in the debates, but it’s been difficult for him to grab the spotlight. With the distractions of Cain and Huntsman gone, his opportunity to shine may come at the ABC debate. Huckabee’s pro-life forum is also tailor made for him. The next seven days provide Santorum with a lot of opportunities. He needs to seize them while also distinguishing himself from Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry.
Things have been quiet on the Bachmann front lately. The only recent news coming out of Iowa is that her campaign misused a coveted list of Iowa homeschoolers that they were not supposed to have access to, and conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly endorsed her campaign.
Bachmann has shown herself to be a solid debater, but she also has shied away from confrontation since Pawlenty dropped out of the race. Now is not the time to be a shrinking violet. Bachmann has to show that she has the killer instinct. Not only does she need to try and knock down those ahead of her in the polls, but she also needs to distinguish herself as the candidate around which social conservatives should rally.
With Perry airing ads that are critical of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, he also needs to be capable of delivering a kill shot if given the opportunity to do so. Obviously debates are not Perry’s strong suit, but if he is going to resurrect his campaign, he needs to use the events over the next seven days to do so. Perry is also making a play for social conservatives. It’s a smart move, and being the social conservative candidate with the resources to implement a comprehensive campaign gives him a unique selling point that neither Bachmann nor Santorum currently have.
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