Iowa’s State Fair (the inspiration for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical) opens its doors on Thursday – an 11-day celebration featuring butter sculptures, cowgirl queens and, on its closing night, an “up close and personal” encounter with Janet Jackson.
(Gee, what could go wrong?)
Not to be outdone, Thursday’s also the day for Republican presidential hopefuls to get up close and personal with Hawkeye caucus-goers – Fox News and the Washington Examiner co-sponsoring a candidates’ debate airing at 9 p.m. EDT from the campus of Iowa State University.
As with any debate, there’s a modicum of controversy. Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, a long-shot candidate who hopes to make a splash in Saturday’s Ames Straw Poll,didn’t make the cut. Neither did Fred Karger, the field’s lone socially progressive and openly gay candidate.
That leaves eight wannabes to duke it out on nationwide cable TV. Alphabetically, they are: Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum.
(We’re assuming Texas Gov. Rick Perry doesn’t pull an A-Rod and announce his candidacy in the middle of the festivities.)
So what to watch for, if you’re planning a viewing party?
Three things, by the letter:
- D-Day. “D” as is “Desperation” for at least two of the debaters – Pawlenty and Santorum. Both are mired in single digits in Iowa, their one and only chance to stay in the race. Both need a strong debate performance to reanimate their candidacies. Media buzzards are circling – especially so with Pawlenty, who at one time was seen as a potential alternative to Romney.
- The M&M Boys. “M” as in the two Mormons in the field: Huntsman and Romney. Faith isn’t the issue – it’s the two candidates’ decision to write off Iowa for the friendlier confines of New Hampshire. This gives the other six debaters targets of opportunity – Romney, in particular, as he’s the frontrunner. Caring for one’s neighbor is a longstanding Iowa tradition. Maybe not so, in this debate.
- OD’ing on the President. “OD” as in “Obama Downgrade”. David Axelrod and John Kerry spent the weekend playing pin the tail on the Tea Party, for the S&P downgrade. Now it’s the Republicans’ turn to lay the blame on the President. Let’s see if any of the eight challengers weaves into a larger, effective narrative of lack of presidential initiative (“lead from behind”, etc.).
(Btw, here’s the S&P memo that started this latest blame game)
As for the to-be-expected Obama-bashing: a word of caution.
Given the events of the past few weeks, the man is low-hanging fruit. But there’ a natural temptation to take things a step too far – say, trying to convince the public that Barack Obama is the evil spawn of Jimmy Carter and John Maynard Keynes.
Here’s another way to put things in perspective, a simple side-by-side of Obama and the two gentlemen he hopes to avoid (one-and-outers Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush) and the one he hopes to emulate (Ronald Reagan, who survived a midterm recession and rolled to an easy re-election).
* annual average
** closing bell, 8/10/11