And away we go. At 8:15 pm eastern time, ABC (now known as the Anybody But Carly network) will usher seven Republican hopefuls onto the stage and give them one last chance to strut their stuff before the First in the Nation primary on Tuesday. (Alternate viewing options here.)
We’ve already had several debates, some with as many candidates on the stage as the full cast of The Ten Commandments, but tonight’s show is arguably the big one. It’s true that only one state has cast votes so far, but things are getting down to the wire for the remainder of the field. After Ted Cruz cleaned up in Iowa, some of the contenders who were mostly hoping to capture the evangelical vote called it a day, specifically Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. Now we’re entering a state with an almost diametrically opposed voter base. New Hampshire is rated as the least religious state in the nation, also having one of the largest ranks of independents. If there’s anyplace for the mainstream, establishment candidates to make their mark in the early going, this is probably it.
While nothing is certain, Trump looks like a lock to win in the final local polling. Cruz has one win in his pocket and was never expecting to do terribly well here, so no matter where he finishes he’ll no doubt soldier on to South Carolina where he is still holding a strong second place in recent polling. But beyond that the picture gets fuzzy. There are three governors (well… four if you count Gilmore) who really need to break out here to have a shot at the establishment lane. If at least one of the group of Christie, Bush and Kasich can ring up a strong finish – preferably second place – then they can slow down the Marcomentum coming out of Iowa and keep themselves in the mix. That’s also probably good news for both Cruz and Trump if it happens because it continues to divide the establishment lane vote. But if Marco manages a solid second and the governors are all down in single digits, it’s conceivable that two or even three of them will drop out before South Carolina. If we assume that Carson’s run is pretty much done and Carly Fiorina just isn’t going to catch fire, we’re down to a three person race heading into Nevada and the SEC primary a few weeks from now.
The way I’m reading the cards right now, that makes tonight’s debate pretty critical to almost everyone on the stage and we’ll likely see some fireworks. But how much? Do you think The Donald will drop the F-bomb? He already did once this weekend.
Donald Trump had a four-letter word fest at last night’s campaign rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
‘You can tell them to go f— themselves, because they let you down and they left,’ Trump said, directing his ire at American companies that relocated overseas.
‘We’re going to knock the s— out of ISIS,’ Trump said at another point.
And encouraging New Hampshire voters to get to the polls on Tuesday for the country’s first primary, Trump dropped another swear word.
‘I don’t give a damn, you’ve got to get out of bed,’ he said.
Whether he does or doesn’t, he’s promised that it will be an awesome show. And The Donald may not have much to worry about in any event. The smart money seems to be on all the stragglers going after Rubio. If so, it’s hard to blame them. Attacking Trump doesn’t seem to do much good and Cruz really doesn’t control the segment of the vote the rest of them are going after. As I said at the top, they need to beat Rubio and I’m guessing we’ll see how he holds up when he’s the real focus of attention.
In case you didn’t hear, the next debate after this will be back at Fox and Trump has stated he will show up this time, even with Megyn Kelly as the moderator. But that’s enough housekeeping notes from me. It’s almost time for the candidates to take to the lecterns. But for all you nitpickers, you can still say podiums if you like. (Check the second definition at Merriam Webster, though lectern is preferred.)
UPDATE: (Jazz) As you’ll recall from the other night, our own M.K. Hammer will be asking some of the questions tonight. She’s already been tweeting some shots from the stage.
— Mary Katharine Ham (@mkhammer) February 6, 2016
Be sure to follow her on Twitter for updates!