Tonight nine candidates will meet in the Fox News debate in Orlando -- last week's cast of characters plus former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who's most well-known for advocating the legalization of marijuana. But the star of the show will be Rick Perry, as the eight other candidates try to steal some of his support by saying he's either to conservative or too liberal on Social Security, immigration, Israel, social issues, and who knows what else. And we'll be liveblogging the fun.
11:30p.m.: What we learned: Everyone supports the troops -- unless they're gay. Perry can give a really good answer on a tough issue for him -- if he gets a lot of time to rehearse it. Romney had a Freudian slip -- there are a lot of reasons not to elect him, he admits accidentally. The bar is set really low if you want to be the funny candidate. Abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education seems very popular, at least by an audience voice vote. Bachmann thinks it's okay to just repeat whatever a stranger tells you when she walks up to you. She also said she wants there to be no taxes, at all. (Meanwhile, Romney wants us all to be rich!) And there are limits to the Huntsman daughters' pop culture knowledge.
10:28p.m.: Perry wears the most comfortable shoes:
11:20p.m.: The young woman with cancer Perry says lobbied him in his answer on the HPV vaccine? He met her after he'd issued the executive order, ABC News' Michael Falcone reports.
Sidenote: Republican candidates have been really into this joke genre this election.
11:14p.m.: Some audience members got really dressed up for the debate:
(Photo via Reuters.)
11:07p.m.: Fox's focus group love Herman Cain's answer that he'd abolish the EPA. A lone voice of dissent pipes up: "I think it serves an important function..."
11:00p.m.: Quick reactions:
- Former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer: "Romney is solid and steady - & he keeps getting better. Perry not such a good night. Santorum up. Bachmann fades. Cain shines"
- The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, "I'd say the Chris Christie-philes are still in business."
- National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru: "None of the debates yet have been disasters for Perry but he is not putting the doubts away. And not landing blows on Romney--who thus wins."
- Molly Ball, soon to be of The Atlantic: "I've watched all of Perry's debates from the last 10 years, and I've never seen him this wobbly."
- The New Republic's Ed Kilgore: "Bachmann did, however, express what a lot of conservatives want to believe: they can indulge themselves to the max and still win."
- Republican strategist Mike Murphy: "No big change in race. But Perry is now bleeding from three weak debates. Mitt had another god night. Cain too."
- Republican strategist Todd Harris: "So we learned tonight there's no sex in the military but all bets are off when it comes to Cain and Newt."
10:51p.m: This is the gay soldier the audience booed:
He's in Iraq right now. But you can tell he could beat up the whole audience, basically. At the same time!
10:50p.m.: The candidates are asked who on stage they'd pick as vice-president:
- Johnson: Paul
- Santorum: Gingrich
- Gingrich: No idea! Cop-out, lame. "These are all good friends of mine, I couldn't imagine hurting any of their feelings by picking one now."
- Paul: Says it's inappropriate to say till he's in the top two.
- Perry: Cain blended with Gingrich.
- Romney: Won't say. Tells an actually funny joke -- that he couldn't get the Cain-Gingrich blend out of his mind.
- Bachmann: A constitutional conservative.
- Cain: This is a game, and it is hypothetical -- I'll play the game. If Romney would throw out his jobs plan and replace it with [Cain's] he'd pick Romney. Otherwise: Gingrich.
10:44p.m.: Johnson gets a big lol saying his neighbor's dogs have created more jobs than this administration. That makes his debate appearance not for nothing, even though he didn't talk about legalizing drugs this time.
10:40p.m.: The consensus is that Perry has lost steam. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza tweets, "First hour =good for Perry. Second hour: Um....." Republican strategist Mike Murphy says, "This was supposed to be the comeback debate. Does the Perry campaign even try debate prep?" Politico's Ben Smith says someone suggests Perry try carbo-loading.
10:33p.m.: In trying to say he's dedicated he is to his beliefs, counter to Perry's flip-flopping charge, Romney says, "There are a lot of reasons not to elect me president." A little oops microexpression flashes over his face. "There are a lot of reasons not to elect all of us president!" Better.
10:32p.m.: Perry was so much better with the vaccine answer than when trying to attack Romney on his biggest weakness, health care. Romney responds, "I'll say it again: Nice try."
10:30p.m.: When Romney talks about Romneycare, he talks with his hands a lot.
10:27p.m.: Perry responds to Bachmann's attack that he mandated tweens get an HPV vaccine as a kickback to a campaign donor who his former staffer was lobbying for. Sounding confident and serious, he said, "I got lobbied on this issue. I got lobbied by a
27 31-year-old woman who had cervical cancer.... the fact is, I erred on the side of life, and I've always erred on the side of life." NBC News' Chuck Todd tweets that it only took three debate for Perry to nail this question.
10:26p.m.: Bachmann says she didn't claim that the HPV vaccine caused mental retardation. She just relayed what a stranger told her.
10:23p.m.: After the crowd boos a gay soldier, the Weekly Standard's John McCormack tweets, "Glad to see media have decided takeaway of this debate will again be reaction of 7 loutish audience members."
10:16p.m.: A gay soldier with huge guns (the muscles kind!) asks the candidates how they'd respond to the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Santorum says "any type of sexual activity has no place in the military" -- hahaha! Don't just give a couple years of your life to fighting wars overseas, be celibate too?
10:15p.m.: Santorum accuses Obama of not "fighting a war to win" but "fighting a war for politics." He implies Huntsman, who says it's time to bring the troops home from Afghanistan, is doing the same. Huntsman replies: "At the end of the day, only Pakistan can save Pakistan, only Afghanistan can save Afghanistan."
10:13p.m.: Bachmann cuts in. Hot Air's Ed Morrissey tweets, "Bachmann gives a good response to Johnson, and steals all three of his voters."
10:11p.m.: New York's Jonathan Chait notes that Santorum's getting a lot of air time and wonders if Google's trying to make it up to him for his little "Google problem."
10:06p.m.: Perry's not so good yet with the Middle East stuff. One a question about what he'd do if Pakistan lost a nuke, he stumbles about "Haqqani... that's uh the main terrorist group... associated... uh with that country."
10:03p.m.: Romney says he wouldn't put "an inch of space" between his positions and Israel's. Cain, who's had some trouble in the past answering questions about the Middle East, says he'd follow President Reagan's message of "peace through strength."
10:02p.m.: Foreign policy time! Fox uses a word cloud to show voters are super interested in Israel.
10:00p.m.: Before the debate, the candidates pretended to be friends:
(Photos via Reuters.)
9:54p.m.: Santorum attacks Perry from the right on immigration and "sovereignty." The exchange gets heated:
9:50p.m.: As expected, Romney goes after Perry on immigration. He says Perry offered a "discount" to illegal immigrants by granting them in-state college tuition. He says it's a $100,000 "magnet" bringing in illegal immigrants.
Moderator Chris Wallace says the most common question viewers sent in about Perry were about immigration. Perry says he's the only one on stage with experience securing the border. But he defends the college law -- says that if you support denying an education to children who were brought into the country "through no fault of your own... then you have no heart."
9:47p.m.: Gingrich says he supports English as the official language of government.
9:46p.m.: "Regular" voters are asking the questions via YouTube videos -- but the questions sound an awful lot like the questions you'd expect moderators to ask -- except they're delivered more poorly.
9:42p.m.: Bachmann says she'd repeal all federal education laws and close up the Department of Education. But she also wants charter schools in every state.
9:38p.m.: Johnson says he'd abolish the Department of Education. Abolishing things is very popular with the crowd.
9:33p.m.: Cain wants to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency. The crowd goes wild. He asks to use the rest of his time for this answer to talk about "what to do with Social Security instead of what to call it." His radio experience serves him well.
9:28p.m.: After Perry says Romney mischaracterizes his position on Social Security, Romney says "There's a Rick Perry out there saying that... So you'd better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that." Perry goes after Romney's book, noting a sentence saying Romneycare would be great for the whole country was cut from the paperback edition.
The New York Times' Michael Barbaro notes this little dig from Romney, "I actually wrote my book."
9:27p.m.: Perry: "It's not the first time Mitt's been wrong on some issues." The fake-nice use of each other's first names is entertaining.
9:24p.m.: The Huntsman girls tweet so many great photos. Looks like Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman are wearing the same tie:
9:15p.m.: Johnson won't say why he's a better libertarian than Paul is. But he says that as president, he'd veto any bill in which spending outpaced revenue. As prove, he says he vetoed more bills than any other governor in the U.S. -- maybe more than the other governors combined. The audience is unsure whether to cheer this.
9:08p.m.: Bachmann comes out against all taxes. Saying she'd wished she could have answered a question from the last debate, when a young guy asked how much of his salary the candidates thought he should be allowed to keep. Bachmann says: "You earned every dollar. You should get to keep every dollar."
9:07p.m.: Romney, saying to bring in jobs America the country has to become attractive to businesses, gets more applause than usual. Another applause line: "I want everybody in America to be rich!"
9:05p.m.: Moderator says that everyone thought the buzzer from the last debate was annoying. So this time, they took it from the sound Gmail makes when you get a new Gchat. It's an unusual choice.
8:56p.m.: Bachmann tells the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody that yes, she is a "Teavangelical." She explains:
"What I talked about out here is Gideon's army meaning literally, it takes very few people to change the world and we have a committed group of people here today in Florida and they are enough. We need to consider that it doesn't take that many, if we put our influence on the line and we trust in God, we can see miracles in our country."
8:46p.m.: Fan favorite Megyn Kelly will be tonight's moderator.
8:45p.m.: Pre-game discussion topic: If the each candidate were Mortal Kombat characters, which one would he or she be?
- Rick Perry: In response to Perry's ad calling President Obama "President Zero" for the lack of jobs created in August, Romney sent out a press release calling Perry "Governor Sub-Zero." In Mortal Kombat terms, this really isn't an insult, because Sub-Zero was one of the most badass characters with the most controversial move, the spine rip. Romney can take this pretty far -- will Perry spine rip Social Security?
- Mitt Romney: Shang Tsung, a "shapeshifter."
- Michele Bachmann: Raiden has mad furious glowing eyes, Bachmann allegedly has "crazy eyes."
- Jon Huntsman: Sonya Blade, an attractive but weak fighter.
- Ron Paul: Kano. Kano rips out hearts. Paul is a heartless libertarian. (Kidding! He only sounds that way when he's talking about what should happen if you are hurt but didn't buy health insurance.)
- New Gingrich: Reptile. Reptile can go invisible. Gingrich famously disappears from the campaign trail.
8:33p.m: One of the candidates excluded from the debate tonight, Thaddeus McCotter, dropped out of the presidential race Thursday. He blames "death by media" and endorses Romney, the Los Angeles Times reports.
8:25p.m.: Class warfare has been in the news all week as President Obama pushes a plan to shrink the deficit by raising taxes on the wealthy. Perry's campaign is trying to turn the charge on Romney -- whom he's already portrayed as a snooty elite -- by saying he's a faux man of the people. "Yesterday in Florida, Romney called for a tax policy to help 'us' in the middle class," the press release sneers, then lists all of Romney's fancy assets. "Will Middle Class Mitt again grace the stage in the Sunshine State?"