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Previewing and live-blogging the GOP presidential debates from New Hampshire

By on January 7, 2012

The six remaining Republican presidential candidates face off in New Hampshire at 9 pm ET tonight in a debate to be broadcast on ABC News.

Twelve hours later, at 9:00 am ET on Sunday, they’ll take part in the NBC News/Facebook debate.

For those still counting, these will be the 14th and 15th debates of the GOP campaign.

Previewing and live-blogging:

10:34 p.m. – Jon Huntsman responds in Mandarin!

10:31 p.m. - Santorum says that class does not exist in America. There is no middle class. And there is no economic inequality. Then he cites his appeal to “blue-collar workers”, not Wall Street. Yes, he said all that in the same answer.

10:30 p.m. – “There are no classes in America,” according to Santorum. Again, I ask – what country are these guys living in?

10:27 p.m. - That was nice of ABC to let Mitt Romney recite his stump speech during a, you know, debate.

10:20 p.m. - Erick Erickson: Congratulations to ABC News for setting a new floor for stupid. #WorstDebateEver

10:14 p.m. - Despite all the hype, Romney isn’t being put on the spot at all. Where are Gingrich’s and Paul’s attacks on him? Or Perry’s? He has nothing to lose. And Romney appears supremely relaxed and confident. I can see why.

10:01 p.m. - Rick Perry just said we need to re-invade Iraq. I’m not joking.

9;59 p.m. - Huntsman rallies, elegantly dismissing Romney’s pathetic dodge that he would never challenge generals on strategy. Then he describes our role in Afghanistan as policing a civil war.

9:56 p.m. - Considering his performance during the 2008 debate between Hillary and Barack and tonight’s effort, it’s clear George Stephanopolous should be banned from moderating future debates.

9:53 p.m. - Former RNC Chair Michael Steele tweets: What the hell kind of debate are we having right now? The Obamas are starting to order the china pattern for the second term.

9:47 p.m. - We’re an hour into this debate and we’re talking about same-sex marriage???

9:43 p.m. - Yes, let’s ask the ‘Man on Dog’ candidate about states banning contraception.

9:42 p.m. - Romney wins. “Contraception? It’s working just fine. Leave it alone.”

9:40 p.m. - Romney: “I can’t imagine a state banning contraception…You can ask our constitutionalist here,” he says referring to Paul.

9:39 p.m. - Here’s a link to the new Ron Paul attack at on Santorum. Called “Betrayal.” bit.ly/w3yAkB

9:36 p.m. - Ron Paul tackles the racial imbalance in the enforcement of the drug war. It’s a libertarian argument that should resonate with minorities. No other candidate on that stage would ever say such a thing, ever talk about institutional racism in the criminal justice system.

9:32 p.m. - Ron Paul is a racist earmarker. Newt is a draft dodger. Santorum is a big gov’t conservative. And Mitt Romney is…winning.

9:31 p.m. - Ron Paul devastates Newt Gingrich on the question of his avoidance of military service. Newt’s response – a desperate pander to New Hampshire on healthcare, and a mention of his being an army brat. He denies that he asked for any deferments. Gingrich says he was married with kids and therefore didn’t fight. Paul knocks him out by noting that he served as a married man with kids.

9:29 p.m. - Ron Paul: “I’m trying to stop the wars, but at least I went when they called me up.”

9:27 p.m. - I simply do not recognize the portrait of Obama’s foreign policy that Romney describes. “Error after error …” When asked to cite an error, he mentions Obama’s careful avoidance of undercutting the opposition in Iran by associating the US with him. That was not an error. The opposite would have been an error. Not understanding in any way what the Iranian opposition wanted, what Iran’s history with the US suggests for our policy. Via Andrew Sullivan.

9:26 p.m. - Romney “I don’t want to be critical of anybody on this stage.” Nope, he has Super PACS to do that.

9:24 p.m. - @BuzzFeedBen Huntsman angling for secretary of state in Marco Rubio’s second term.

9:22 p.m. - They all seem a little subdued tonight, their voices more gravely, the energy lower. Santorum at least admits he finds libertarianism “disgusting.” Santorum is now describing his working as a board member for companies he had helped in Congress as “private sector” work. Paul notes Santorum’s big spending, pro-union, pro-industrial policy record. Here’s a summary of some of the things Santorum has voted to fund.

9:19 p.m. - With nothing to lose, Rick Perry has now become interesting.

9:18 p.m. -  I’m actually sympathetic to Santorum’s argument that the presidency is not suited to a CEO. Romney basically says it’s all about leadership, not management. Via Andrew Sullivan.

9:17 p.m. - How much crap can ABC jam into the screen, there’s a hashtag, a WMUR-TV block, a Yahoo snipe, an ABC logo and a red block with the word “Live” in it.

9:14 p.m. - Paul calls Santorum “a big government person.” “High-powered lobbyist in Washington, DC.” Newt, too, cashed in.

9:12 p.m. - Again, I don’t get it. Huntsman nudges Romney but doesn’t push. Why?

9:11 p.m. - Romney is saying that Obama deserves to be blamed for the recession he inherited, but that he gets no credit for any improvement. That sounds about right.

9:05 p.m. - Romney says Obama doesn’t deserve any credit for 200K new jobs in December. Says it’s like “the Rooster taking credit for the sunrise.”

9:03 p.m. – Has Rick Perry ever been at one of the end positions for a debate before?

8:40 p.m. - Photo of ABC’s anchors prepping for debate:

8:26 p.m. - Gingrich in friendly attack-mode ahead of debate.

7:45 p.m. - @jimgeraghty: ABC’s lead-in programming to the #NHdebate: the silly stunt game show “Wipeout.” Somehow, that’s a metaphor.

6:47 p.m. – “Mitt’s gonna need to wear a flak jacket tonight,” said a top New Hampshire adviser to one of the GOP candidates.

6:42 p.m. - DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, in an interview with TPM: “Mitt Romney, I think, is more of a job cremator than a job creator.”

6:27 p.m. - The Atlantic: Mitt Romney has won Iowa (or just about). He is about to win New Hampshire, and he leads in South Carolina. There’s only one real question for the two debates about to take place here in quick succession Saturday night and Sunday morning: Can anybody stop this train?

6:25 p.m. - Los Angeles Times: “If Rick Santorum’s blistering remarks about Mitt Romney on Saturday are any indication, this evening’s televised debate will be the most acrimonious of the Republican presidential campaign.”

6:23 p.m. - NBC News reports: “Not only is it just three days before the New Hampshire primary, it also marks the first presidential debate since the barrage of negative attacks against the former House speaker in Iowa kicked into high gear.”

6:22 p.m. - Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond: “It’s fight night. We’re excited.”

5:51 p.m. – Rob Walker: “Reality shows, it seems to me, are more or less attempts to recreate the core narrative of electoral politics: a bunch of candidates competing and being eliminated until a solitary winner is chosen, by most votes, with a lot of dramatic tension, narrative richness and exciting plot twists along the way. If politicians begin to compete by seeing who can eat the biggest pile of bugs or dance a rumba, or whip up a multicourse meal that exploits squid to its fullest culinary potential, then you could say the process is borrowing from contemporary reality TV. But the whole winnowing-down-a-field-of-competitors thing has been a staple of the participatory-democracy genre for quite a while.”

“The reason that reality shows swiped this narrative structure is that it can be extraordinarily entertaining. That’s what I concluded, way back in November, when I found myself shamelessly savoring my fifth Republican debate. (I think it was the ninth or tenth debate overall.) I knew I was supposed to be appalled that the 2012 race began 18 or 24 or perhaps 48 months prior to election day, but I wasn’t, and I’m not. The truth is I always enjoy the primaries, Democratic or Republican. And this season has been a real standout.” 

5:49 p.m. - @BorowitzReport: That weird sensation you’re feeling while watching the #GOPDebate is your brain cells curling up and dying.

5:14 p.m. - Jon Huntsman increasingly appears less focused on the political landscape of 2012 and more fixated on what his party will look like post-Obama — and what role he could have in it come 2016.

4:28 p.m. - Newt Gingrich is raring to go tonight. The former House speaker and onetime front-runner in the Republican nominating contest for president hosted a well-attended and enthusiastic town hall Saturday afternoon looking more energetic than he has in many days.

Near the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, Gingrich spoke to several hundred voters at the Wright Museum of World War II History. A Pershing tank displayed behind him, Gingrich started the event with a crack about Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic nominee who was ridiculed after a campaign photo op in which he appeared in a tank wearing an oversize, chin-strapped helmet. “From a political standpoint, I look at this tank lovingly,” Gingrich said with a smile. “It’s just a reminder that governors of Massachusetts don’t always make good presidential candidates.”

11:43 a.m. - Fred Barnes: For TV purposes, conflict is a lot more exciting than deliberations on policy. It results in good ratings. Indeed, the debates so far have drawn large audiences. But the candidates have suffered. The media stars loom large. The presidential candidates look small.

The debates have become like hockey games. Viewers show up to see the candidates drop their gloves and flail away at each other. Or perhaps like auto races, with the prospect of watching a candidate or two crash and burn, as Rick Perry did in one debate.

11:35 a.m. - As the 2012 elections finally begin, NBC News has been polling the public to see what issues concern them the most. What’s unusual is that it collected the data not by phone interviews, but through Facebook. The polling is one piece of a larger partnership between NBC and Facebook, including a co-sponsored Republican candidates debate on “Meet The Press” this Sunday. MTP is crowdsourcing questions for the candidates through comments on its Facebook page, and the debate will stream live online along a Facebook live chat window.

11:24 a.m. - Jim VandeHei and Maggie Haberman write about Good Newt vs Bad Newt: “In some appearances, he sounds like a man who knows he did more in this year’s debates to repair his image than anyone else on stage. He did it by sounding smart, flashing humor and training all of his harshness on President Barack Obama and the media. This is the reason he had his moment in the front-runner sun. In others, he sounds like a man who just can’t help himself. With that sun now set, Bad Newt – the one with the acid tongue and nasty streak – is emerging.”

11:20 a.m. - Buddy Roemer thinks it’s patently unfair that Perry gets to participate in the debates when the two candidates are polling equally poorly in the Granite State.

11:14 a.m. – Michael Falcone asks, Can Mitt-Mentum be stopped?

11:13 a.m. - The Democratic National Committee e-mails The Note: “DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and NH Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley will hold a press conference at Saint Anselm College’s Institute of Politics to discuss Mitt Romney’s real record as governor of neighboring Massachusetts. The central question of this election is going to be who will restore economic security for the middle class. Mitt Romney believes that we can just cut our way to prosperity.”

10:53 a.m. - The Caucus blog offers the first of I’m sure will be many “five things to watch for during the debates” including the point that for Jon Huntsman, the challenge is the same as it’s been for the last several months — getting people to notice his campaign. This may be his last chance.

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