Seven Republican candidates are in Las Vegas tonight for the eighth primary debate this year, and this one promises to be a mixed bag. On the one hand, we’re going to have fun watching the moderators try to pin down Herman Cain on which of the many interesting things he said were actually jokes. On the other hand, we’re going to miss out on the tweeting of Jon Huntsman’s daughters, because the candidate is skipping this debate. The Huntsman girls are always entertaining, like when they posted a photo of their mom with Anita Perry and Callista Gingrich and called it “First Wives Club.” (The First Wives Club was a movie about three ladies whose husbands dumped them for younger women. The Perrys and the Huntsmans are still married; poor Callista happens to be, for Marianne Gingrich, the younger woman.) Other things to watch for: Mitt Romney has been strong through all the debates, Perry has famously been less so. And Ron Paul is unafraid to goad the audience into booing him. We’ll be liveblogging the fun.
10:30p.m.: Highlights: Mitt Romney hates Rick Perry so much. Surely the feeling is mutual, but Romney shows it more. (CNN's John King tweets that on his way off stage, Perry said, "it went well tonight... A lot of fun.") Romney turned red and couldn't help reaching out and touching Perry. Which the crowd loved. The looks they exchanged were great. Liberals think Romney is the last sane man standing. Conservatives aren't giving Cain a pass on knowing little on foreign policy. Michele Bachmann railed against President Obama because he "put us in Libya. He is now putting us in Africa." (Libya is in Africa.) Newt Gingrich was forced to admit he supported an individual mandate that citizens buy health insurance in the 1990s.
But the most interesting moments where when the crowd roared in support of Romney. Romney has never been a fan favorite. He hasn't been able to grow his support in the polls above 25 percent even as other candidacies collapsed. But the reaction of the audience tonight shows that maybe it's not that Romney needed to apologize for his health care record, as some have suggested, but that he needed to look like he could strangle Perry Homer Simpson-style.
- Republican strategist Mike Murphy: "Scorecard: Perry improves from awful to just bad, still looks dumb, and now, mean. Mitt wins again, but got bloodied. Cain has peaked."
- The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza: "Debate report card: Obama narrowly wins with Huntsman a close second." Also: "Obama campaign can't be THAT happy tonight. The GOP's strongest general election candidate remains favorite to win nomination."
- NBC News' Chuck Todd: "Perry was no shrinking violet tonight; he forced himself back front-n-center with Romney; Cain was the one fading from spotlight tonight."
- The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan: "Santorum's best debate so far - scoring real points against Rick and Mitt, clear & consistent. Can't stand him. But fair's fair."
- Republican strategist Alex Castellanos: "before this debate Perry faced doubts about his abilities. now he will also face doubts about his likeability. a lot not to like tonight."
Political Wire's Teagan Goddard: "The biggest story of the debate was the puncturing of the Herman Cain bubble ... Rick Perry knew he had probably just one more chance to prove his candidacy but he swung wildly at Romney and missed ... Newt Gingrich is playing a game of survival. He may well fill the vacuum when Cain finally fades as the leading Romney-alternative."
- Cain knows it's a joke, and we know it's a joke. Example: On the question of whether he's the flavor of the month, Cain likes to say, "Haagen-Dazs black walnut tastes good all the time."
- Cain says it, everyone freaks out, and Cain claims it was a joke. Example: That electric fence. "America needs to get a sense of humor," Cain explained.
6:37 p.m. Tuesday night is the eighth Republican primary debate of the 2012 election cycle, and while many pundits agree that this time the debates have mattered a lot more, they're running out of unique things to say about them. (Perry, Cain, Bachmann, and Romney have all taken turns in the "hot seat.") In fact, it's getting just a teeny bit predictable. The New York Times's Michael Shear is already guessing what the candidates post-debate spin will be. But can you guess what each pundit will say about the candidates? Take our quiz. We'll be back to liveblog the candidates' quips -- and the insta-punditry -- before the debate begins 8p.m. eastern time.
Will The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza call the debate the last stand for:
a) Rick Perry
b) Michele Bachmann
Will Cillizza say:
a) Herman Cain "proved... he could hold his own as the centerpiece of a debate -- generally handling the questions thrown his way and turning each and every one of them back to his “9/9/9” tax reform plan and outsider credentials"
b) that "the attacks against Cain were scattershot and largely launched by second or third tier candidates."
Will ABC News' Michael Falcone say Rick Perry:
a) "was mostly able to withstand the broadsides from his fellow Republicans ... Many of the Texas governor’s answers drew applause from the audience."
b)"If the GOP primary contest is defined debate by debate he cannot win. Period."
Will RedState's Erick Erickson say:
a) "Herman Cain proved himself a bit of an unstable number two. He is starting to get the tough questions on his 999 plan and his responses sound like they were crafted in the land of unicorns and rainbows"?
b) "The winner is Herman Cain. The audience loved him. Other than his question on Israel, Cain’s answers really were out of the park awesome"
Will The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky write:
a) "The conventional wisdom is dumping hard on Rick Perry ... This tells me now is exactly the time to buy Perry stock?"
b) Perry "choked badly on an early big moment when Charlie Rose asked him what his plan was. He stumbled his way into some boilerplate about energy, but he spoke unconfidently and was looking at Charlie as a child looks at his teacher while trying to remember that middle string of the alphabet. I still count Perry in, though. This has to come down to Romney vs. X, and I still don’t think X will be Cain. But Perry is a pretty lowercase X just now."
Will Republican strategist Mark McKinnon write in The Daily Beast that:
a) "Perry went a long way toward reassuring viewers and voters that he has no intention of changing [Social Security] in any way for current or even near retirees. ... I don’t think Perry put the issue to bed, but he sent it upstairs to get into PJs."
b) "Perry can recover, but he has wasted some huge opportunities, making it a lot harder on himself and his campaign than it should have been. He’s raised a lot of concern among Republicans about whether he is up to the job."
Will McKinnon say of Jon Huntsman:
a) "This is a political environment ripe for a moderate with centrist appeal. Which is why it was refreshing to see former Utah governor Jon Huntsman unload on rivals for appealing to the fringes"
b) he is "battling to prove [he's] still relevant"?
Will Karl Rove say the race is:
a) between Perry and Romney
b) Cain needs to take advantage of his rise in the polls?
Will New York's Jonathan Chait say:
a) "The big question of tonight's Republican presidential debate was whether Rick Perry ... would survive. I think he did. He is a bad debater, but given the history of figures like George W. Bush, I see no evidence that Republican voters want a good debater."
b) "We may be approaching a danger zone for Perry where the Party Establishment panics about his suitability and throws itself openly behind Romney. I thought Perry had a nearly unbeatable position last month, but he’s playing it pretty badly, and Romney is playing his position extremely well."
There's still time to leave your answers in comments. And like the pundits, you can't guess c) none of the above.