Tonight is the first Republican debate with frontrunner Mitt Romney. How much will the other six candidates pile on him? Or will they stick to bashing President Obama? With many Republicans dissatisfied with the current 2012 field, Monday night's debaters--Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Romney--have to prove that while they might not be perfect, but they're not so bad. We'll be live blogging the debate and pundits' reactions to it.

10:40 p.m. Many are saying Bachmann was a big winner tonight--Chris Cillizza says, "Bachmann dominated the stage with quotable lines galore and an audience hanging on her every word." The Philadelphia Inquirer's Tom Fitzgerald says, "Every answer Bachmann gives removes any reson for Sarah Palin to get in. Palin could not compete with her." And Mike Murphy says Palin has passed the torch.

It's like that moment in Mean Girls, when Lindsay Lohan's character ousts Rachel McAdams' to become queen of the Plastics. There's only room for one female bomb-thrower in this campaign!

And Pawlenty appears to be the loser for not going after Romney. Commentary's Jonathan S. Tobin says the former Minnesota governor was too cautious, missing his moment to attack "Obamneycare." Tobin continues, "It was a key moment in this race and one that Pawlenty will rue in the months to come. He walks away from the debate clearly weakened by this astonishing failure of either nerve or imagination."

10:27 p.m. And here's how Drudge saw the debate. No siren, though.

Note: Bachmann 2012 ads are now on the site, too.

10:23 p.m. And now the real work begins: Spinning. Politico's Maggie Haberman tweets this photo of the still-empty Pawlenty area of the spin room.

10:13 p.m. Twitter insta-analysis seems to agree that Romney was good enough, and Pawlenty, who hopes to be the credible Romney alternative, was not:

  • Mike Murphy: "Romney won. Bachmann surged. Cain disappointed. Pawlenty whiffed. Gingrich slept. Santorum fretted. Paul scolded. "
  • Ezra Klein: "If anything, an even bigger win for Romney. Pawlenty seemed physically intimidated by him at the beginning."
  • Nate Silver: "My (horribly subjective and arbitrary) debate grades. Bachmann A; Romney A; Santorum B+; Pawlenty B-; Paul C; Gingrich C; Cain C."

9:58 p.m. Paul is forced to pick one of his rivals to join his hypothetical administration. "They haven't even told me how they feel about the Federal Reserve yet!" Bachmann says she'd use an American Idol-type contest. She then says, "In the past two hours I've learned more about the goodness of the American people..." All the candidates explain what they learned tonight, which mostly boils down to "New Hampshire is awesome."

9:56 p.m. Pawlenty gets a tricky question: Who made a better choice for vice presidentn2008, Obama or John McCain? Pawlenty says Biden "has been wrong on everything" and picks Palin as the better candidate.

9:46 p.m. Bachmann says Obama is "leading from behind" and that there's no national interest in the intervention in Libya. Slate's Dave Weigel writes, "We shouldn't have gotten involved in Libya but we should lead from the front? The hell does that mean?"

9:45 p.m. Both Romney and Pawlenty spend a lot of their answer time on the Afghanistan question thanking troops for their service.

9:42 p.m. A questioner, father of military service members, asks if it's time to bring troops home from Afghanistan. Romney says "it's time to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can." Paul says he wouldn't want for the generals--"I'm commander in chief!" He'd end the Afghan war. He would "quit bombing" Libya, Yemen, Pakistan.

9:39 p.m. Pawlenty endorses Coke over Pepsi. Boringest "this or that" question.

9:32 p.m. Cain opposes the Fourteenth Amendment, it seems, as he says he doesn't think someone should automatically get citizenship if he or she is born in America.

9:28 p.m. Amanda Carpenter notes that as soldiers are fighting three wars, the first military question is about Don't Ask Don't Tell.

9:26 p.m. Santorum gets a question meant to stir up a fight between the candidates: Does he think Romney, who was pro-choice, is genuinely pro-life now? Or was he just making a political calculation? But Santorum doesn't take the opportunity to hammer his opponent.

9:21 p.m. Bachmann says she wouldn't campaign against state gay marriage laws. She then clarifies that she would support an amendment to the Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman, but she still wouldn't go after state laws. But a constitutional amendment trumps state laws?

9:18 p.m. Does Romney prefer spicy or mild wings? He says spicy. We at the Wire are skeptical. Then, in the parlance of professional wrestling, he goes for the cheap pop: "Bruins are up 4-0!" The crowd roars.

9:17 p.m. "I'm just going to go out on a limb here," Gingrich says in response to Cain's answer on whether he'd hire Muslims. He explains that a Pakistani-born man who tried to blow up Times Square had sworn his allegiance to the U.S., and, when confronted by a judge about that pledge, said "You are my enemy. I lied." He then references communists and Nazis.

9:12 p.m. Does Cain think Muslims are less committed to the Constitution to the country? Cain, who said he wouldn't be comfortable appointing Muslims to his cabinet, clarified that he only meant the Muslims who "were trying to kills us." He says he's just "saying very emphatically, American laws and American courts." No Sharia! Cain doesn't exactly answer whether he'd only give a loyalty test to Muslims but not Christians or Jews. "When you interview a person for a job, you look at their work record, you look at their resume, then you have a one on one interview," Cain says, and that's when he'd figure out how committed a nominee was to the country.


Romney steps in to say "of course" Sharia law won't be implied in U.S. courts, and that "We treat people with respect regardless of their religious persuasion."

9:08 p.m. Philip Rucker notes that Bachmann just gave Obama his first compliment of the night: "I'm going to quote someone who's far more eloquent than me." She's referring to then-Sen. Obama's opposition to raising the debt ceiling, which the White House has said he only did because he knew the limit would get raised without his vote.

9:01 p.m. No one likes the moderator's "Do you like this thing or that thing" questions:

  • John McCormack complains, "First candidate to tell John King his either/or question is stupid wins."
  • Hot Air's Ed Morrissey says, "Let's play #cnndebate This or That: More CNN debates, or having fingernails slowly pulled off? #dontrushmeimthinking"
  • Slate's Dave Weigel gets dramatic: "This or that: Punch me in my smug face or order a hit on my dog because you're so sick of answering this stupid question? #CNNdebate."

But Chuck Todd says, "Everyone's picking on John King for the #thisorthat. We all secretly want to know the light stuff, #dontlie."

8:59 p.m. King asks Pawlenty about the Paul Ryan plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program. Pawlenty says we have to "keep our word" to retirees, and that he has his own plan to get Medicare solvent.

8:53 p.m. Gingrich is decisive, unapologetic, when picking American Idol over Dancing With the Stars.

8:52 p.m. Romney says we should look at the government and ask not what we should cut, but what we should keep. Aaron Blake thinks it sounds like a slogan.

8:48 p.m. Benjy Sarlin tweets, "Tim Pawlenty stands up for space. Newt gets testy, says he was totally pro-space. ... Man do NOT get Newt started on space."

8:46 p.m. Continuing the discussion of the role of government, Gingrich says that if instead of funding NASA, we gave private incentives to businesses, we'd have a permanent station on the Moon already. In response, only Pawlenty will say he doesn't want to eliminate the space program. Gingrich then says he doesn't want to end the space program, but notes, "We built a transcontinental railroad without a Department of Railroads."

8:45 p.m. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza writes, "Bachmann message: I am in Congress. I am important. I introduce bills. And, yes, it is working. 'I fought behind closed doors, against my own party, on TARP'. And, yes, the question was on the auto bailout."

8:41 p.m. Romney says the Detroit bailout was not a success (Romney wrote an op-ed called "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" during the financial crisis, predicting a bailout would destroy the auto industry. But Detroit has profitable again. But Romney says he wasn't wrong. He says the bailout was wasteful, and that the government doesn't know how to run business better than the private sector does.

8:38 p.m. Bachmann gets her "fun" question: Elvis or Johnny Cash? (Um, isn't the proper question "Are you an Elvis man or a Beatles man?" as in Pulp Fiction?) Bachmann says "that's tough" before copping out with "both." Then she references one of Elvis's lesser-known singles, saying, "I have 'Christmas with Elvis' on my iPod."

8:34 p.m. Get to know a candidate! John King says he'll be asking a few silly questions so the candidates can show off their winning personalities. Santorum gets the first question: Does he watch Jay Leno or Conan O'Brien? Neither. But if he had to, he'd watch Leno. Going for the old folks vote?

8:28 p.m. As Bachmann declares Obama will be a one-term president, Politico's Ben Smith notes, "CNN's dial group going nuts for Bachmann."

8:25 p.m. Cain, who's stumbled answering foreign policy questions, promises he'd "hire the right people" to advise him.

8:23 p.m. Gingrich makes the point that Republicans have to win not only the White House, but a majority in the Senate and a bigger majority in the House to overturn Obamacare. He even cites the number of seats the GOP would need. Talking Points Memo's Benjy Sarlin tweets, "Newt .ever the professor, gets into the actual math on repealing Obamacare." NBC's Chuck Todd adds, "Gingrich taking about the Senate and the House; is he running for Prime Minister?"

8:18 p.m. Romney gets his first "Obamneycare" question. He promises to get rid of President Obama's health care overhaul and bring about a "state solution." Pawlenty, who coined the Obamneycare portmanteau Sunday, won't defend his attack against his rival. Moderator John King basically asks Pawlenty, "Can't you say it to Romney's face?"

8:13 p.m. Bachmann, the only unofficial candidate on stage, announces she has filed the paperwork to run for president. The Weekly Standard's John McCormack tweets, BREAKING: PERSON PARTICIPATING IN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE SAYS SHE'S RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT."

8:06 p.m. Discussion topic: Romney's face. The man occasionally mocked as a political Ken doll looks a little rough--dark circles, ruddy skin. Did he decide to go without makeup? If so, is he trying to avoid looking too perfect?

8:05 p.m. With their introductions, most candidates start on a sunny note, mentioning their large families (Pawlenty even notes he's also an excellent neighbor!). But Gingrich bucks the trend, trying out a new, not-so-sunny coinage: the Obama Depression.

8:00 p.m. Here we go! First thoughts: Herman Cain is breaking with the tradition of wearing a boring red or blue tie, instead opting for a sunny yellow.

7:59 p.m. As the candidates get ready to take the stage, Politico's Maggie Haberman observes, "Ah, the awkward silence of standing with six people you don't really like before taking the podium."

7:57 p.m. PBS's David Chalian notes that the last time Robert Gibbs did post-spin debate at St. Anselm's College, site of tonight's festivities, it was following then-Sen. Obama's ill-considered comment to Hillary Clinton, "You're likeable enough."

7:52 p.m. Setting priorities, continued: "John King beseeches crowd to not check Bruins scores during debate," Slate's Dave Weigel tweets.

7:49 p.m. The Atlantic's Josh Green says he's a "debate skeptic" because "They're hard to differentiate, and the last one is usually forgotten as soon as the next one rolls around." A bit of data to hammer home that point: There were an 21 debates last cycle, and Romney appeared in all but three, MSNBC's Carrie Dann notes. Still, Green writes, tonight might be different: "CNN's format has so many tech and social-media bells and whistles that it seems more like a video game than a staid political debate, and therefore more likely to trip up the candidates--or, as I suppose CNN would say, 'elicit interesting responses.'"

7:39 p.m. David Axelrod is commenting on the GOP field on CNN, and former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs is in New Hampshire to push back against whatever attacks the candidates launch on Obama. The Chicago Sun Times' Lynn Sweet says it's part of Team Obama's "multi-front game plan" for defending the president. Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse will be in the spin room, and, naturally, the DNC will be going all out on Twitter and other social media.

7:30 p.m. First priorities: Everyone's coming up with drinking games for tonight's event. Benjy Sarlin suggests taking a shot every time Gingrich says Paul Ryan--whose Medicare Gingrich attacked and then praised--is awesome. The Daily Caller's Matt Lewis suggests a drink every time Sarah Palin's name comes up, plus downing a slice of pizza for every mention of Cain.