8 p.m. ET on CNN, the Romney pile-on begins in earnest — or does it? The frontrunner’s supposed to be the universal target, but if I were a Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain whose candidacy depended entirely on Iowa, I’d worry less about attacking the guy with the light footprint and more about the guy who desperately needs to win there to launch himself nationwide. Pawlenty vs. Bachmann, round one.
It runs until 10 p.m., but if you’re worried about getting bored, don’t be:
There will be, of course, the audience and the moderator, CNN’s John King. But just before the stage is something the CNNers have dubbed “The Red Zone,” where a group of registered Republican voters will be sitting who have not yet chosen a candidate. Big emphasis on that last part from Bohrman, who made it known that the network had gone to considerable effort to verify the open-mindedness of the Red Zoners and ensure that CNN didn’t get punked. The Red Zone is a sort of a living, breathing, real-time focus group. But it is not only that! The Red Zone folks aren’t going to just sit by, passively, stewing about Obamacare. Oh no, they’re not. They’ll get to ask questions of the candidates during the debate.
You know who else will get to ask questions? Three groups of Republicans who have been empaneled by CNN in three cities around New Hampshire: Plymouth, Rochester, and Hancock. (Bohrman wanted to get the entire town of Dixville Notch, which would have been cool, but it didn’t work out. Maybe they don’t have Twitter up there.) Anyway, these three groups will be watching, hawk-like, and the candidates will also be watching them, because they’re going to be looming over the stage like Big Brother on a gigantic 27-foot-by-16-foot television screen.
Oh, but they’re not all that’s going to be looming over the stage on giant 27-foot screens. You know why? Because there are TWO giant 27-foot screens, and the other one will be devoted to a Twitter and Facebook stream curated by CNN’s own Bryan Monroe. (The hashtag will be #CNNDebate, by the way.) So you, too–or anybody!–can ask questions of the candidates. Or just embarrass them for ducking, if that’s what they do. Monroe made clear that he’ll be including all sorts of comments–so you if you want to shame Romney for some weak dodge on health care, you can do so IN GIANT LETTERS ON A BIG SCREEN RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIS FACE.
In other words, we may actually see the word “RINO” materialize behind a candidate tonight if his/her answer is unsatisfactory. The idea of what might show up onscreen when Gingrich is speaking is alone enough to make me faint with anticipation. Greatest debate ever?
While we wait, dive into NRO’s interview with the editor of New Hampshire’s most influential newspaper. He’s awfully cool to Palin’s chances, but winning NH would be about as important to her as winning Iowa would be to Romney. I.e. not very. Exit question: Why on earth didn’t Jon Huntsman participate tonight? He hasn’t declared yet, I know, but then neither has Bachmann. And unlike Bachmann, New Hampshire is crucial to his viability; this is the perfect chance to introduce himself to the state, and he’s passing. Bizarre.
Update: Ah, almost forgot the obligatory debate drinking game link. Follow Matt Lewis’s instructions and you’ll be rocked within 10 minutes.