After a debate in Tampa on Monday and the State of the Union on Tuesday, it's time for Act Three of the week in politics before next Tuesday's Florida primary: a Republican presidential debate in Jacksonville, sponsored by CNN, as the polls show a dead heat in the state between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.
During the debate, read and contribute to our liveblog, which will feature real-time discussion and analysis from Yahoo News and ABC News journalists, including David Chalian, the Washington bureau chief for Yahoo News; Walter Shapiro, the "Character Sketch" columnist for Yahoo News; and Chris Suellentrop, the deputy editor for blogs--including the Ticket--at Yahoo News.
Also participating will be Ramesh Ponnuru and Alex Koppelman.
Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor at National Review and a columnist for Bloomberg View.
Alex Koppleman is an associate news editor for NewYorker.com.
Reader comments will be moderated by Chris Wilson, the editor of the Signal, the Yahoo News predictions site.
Our conversation begins at 7:45 p.m. ET, and the debate begins at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch it online here or read highlights below:
7:51: Walter Shapiro
My big prediction for tonight (and you read it here first): Ronald Reagan will be invoked so often during the debate that around the second commercial break the Gipper himself will appear to correct the record like Marshall McLuhan in "Annie Hall."
7:52: Ramesh Ponnuru
Yes, Walter, today's battle over ownership of the Reagan legacy has been pretty self-parodic.
7:54: Chris Suellentrop
Ramesh, what's your sense of the race right now? Do your conservative bona fides give you any greater predictive powers than the rest of the press has possessed this year?
7:55: Alex Koppelman
And while we're bugging Ramesh: do you think that any one of the candidates has the best claim to Reagan's legacy? Or if not one of the candidates, is there any single person in the GOP today who does?
7:55: Walter Shapiro
One detail for the Ronald Reagan bake-off: Romney who is claiming that Gingrich is a false Reagan disciple was an independent voter in Massachusetts all through the Reagan years. And only switched his registration to the GOP in late 1993 to run against Ted Kennedy.
7:56: Ramesh Ponnuru
Chris: No, I don't think I have any greater predictive powers, and during primary season my conservative bona fides have come under question! I think right now Gingrich needs to change the dynamic of the race in Florida. The bar is higher for him than for Romney, partly b/c debates are so central to the rationale for his candidacy.
7:57: Ramesh Ponnuru
Alex: Reagan remade the party, and everyone in it is in his shadow. Nobody has the same skill set; and nobody has the same issue positions, because the issues have changed. How's that for a non-response?
7:57: Chris Suellentrop: Yes, it does feel like--perhaps unfairly--Gingrich absolutely must win Florida to keep going, while Romney doesn't need it as badly. But this is where Walter steps in to tell me to Give Voting a Chance.
7:58: Comment From Robert
You know Newt is mad when that magical finger starts getting pointed every which-a-way. I'm expecting to see that a few times tonight.
8:04: Walter Shapiro
Why at this stage do we need such long introductions?
8:07: Alex Koppelman
But CNN does like its theatrics. I'd prefer it if they went back to their holograms, though.
8:07: hollybdc: Again, I think everybody in America knows who these guys are at this point #cnndebate [via Twitter]
8:09: Comment From mike d
There are plenty of people who have yet to watch a single debate.
Starting off with illegal immigration!
8:12: Alex Koppelman
I love Newt's idea about the credit card companies running employee verification programs. Because credit card fraud never happens.
8:14: Ramesh Ponnuru
All of them--but especially Romney and Gingrich--are trying to thread the needle on immigration, placating a base outraged by illegal immigration w/o alienating Hispanics.
8:15: Walter Shapiro
I would love to watch Jeb Bush's face during all these immigration answers. He has warned about the Republicans being the party of older white men.
Gingrich says Romney is still the most "anti-immigrant" cand on stage [via Twitter]
8:18: Chris Suellentrop
I was just about to comment that this debate didn't have much energy. Romney quickly changed that.
8:18: Ramesh Ponnuru
That's the most passionate I've seen Romney in...maybe ever.
8:20: Comment From Bob
No one is "anti-immigration." They're against "illegal" immigration. Few seem to bother to make that distinction.
8:22: Comment From Guest
This debate is already in the first 19 minutes more exciting than the NBC debate. No offense to Brian Williams.
THE EUROPEAN UNION
8:26: Alex Koppelman
Did I mishear him, or did Santorum just praise the European Union?
8:27: Comment From Alan
Yes. He just praised the EU.
8:27: Chris Suellentrop: Santorum also mentioned at a previous debate that Europe has greater social mobility than the United States. He is a Europhile!
8:51: Comment From John Williams
Space program has invented a great deal of what we use today. Also, compared to the military budget is almost not present.
8:51: Chris Suellentrop
I'm surprised at how much mockery there has been of space exploration this week. Didn't you people dream of going to space as children?
8:52: Ramesh Ponnuru
Chris S: I think that it's a symptom of declining faith in the future. We imagine the future much more often as a dystopia than we used to as a culture, I think.
8:52: Walter Shapiro
A Democratic answer from Romney on space -- why spend money on the moon when we have unmet needs here on earth.
8:56: Comment From Guest
Changes the whole illegal alien arguments
9:00: Ramesh Ponnuru
I bet that in all of these debates that there has been more talk about the moon than about the possible effects on us of a European economic meltdown.
Ramesh - At about debate 13 we looked and I think at that point there was one question in all the debates about the eurozone.
9:01: Walter Shapiro
Don't you folks understand -- arguing about TV ads is so much more important than the future of the euro.
9:02: Chris Moody: Can we go back to talking about the moon please?
9:04: Alex Koppelman
Gingrich says questioner should be able to buy insurance through an association. Which sounds remarkably like the exchanges in Obamacare...
9:05: Ramesh Ponnuru
As a free-market guy, I like the idea of letting people get a tax break for buying insurance themselves just like they do for getting it through their employer--an idea both Gingrich and Romney just touted. Doing that all at once though would mean that a lot of people who like their current insurance arrangements would lose them.
I think these debates are important several days later when they filter down. What's going to be replayed? Newt talking about the moon. I'd bet $10,000 on it.
9:08: Walter Shapiro
Yes, it's Newt and the moon plus Ron Paul and "age discrimination."
9:12: Ramesh Ponnuru
Santorum is beating the tar out of Romney on the health-care question--both substantively and politically.
9:12: Sara Just
Santorum's best 5 minutes of performance
9:13: Chris Suellentrop
That was Santorum's finest moment of this campaign -- Romney just staggered a little, literally.
9:14: Comment From John
Finally! Somebody goes after Romneycare substantively!
9:48: Walter Shapiro
Big question -- will all four still be on the stage when the GOP holds its next debate in a month?
9:49: Chris Moody
Keyes, in Miami: "Guy just walked out of Miami audience, seething at Santorum. Says Puerto Ricans are treated as second-class citizens"
9:50: Ramesh Ponnuru
That's not the kind of audience participation anyone had in mind.
9:56: Walter Shapiro
I wish I had the emotional strength to watch Fox News and Florida TV on line to see how the debate is playing with less committed voters.
9:57: Chris Suellentrop
I'm really intrigued with how "food stamps" has become the new Gingrich bogeyman.
9:58: Ramesh Ponnuru
Gingrich created three strawmen in quick succession. Not everyone can do that.
9:59: Comment From MaxxFordham
Strawmen are what debates are all about, no?
9:59: Chris Suellentrop
So, who won? Ramesh says Santorum. He might be right.
9:59: Alex Koppelman
I always enjoy Santorum trying to explain why someone whose career has been about social conservatism can win an election that will almost certainly be about the economy.
10:01: Walter Shapiro
I give it to Santorum as well. The real question is whether Romney came across as too harsh and too smug. Gingrich somehow lost his debate mojo for the second time in a row.
10:01: Ramesh Ponnuru
Paul was funny (in a good way), made some good points, and had a better debate than usual--but sometimes seems to be in a different race than the other three.
10:02: Chris Suellentrop
Yes, Romney was very strong at the beginning, but was he too hot? And did he flub his answers about his investments and his Swiss bank account? I think he did well enough, but It Remains To Be Seen.
10:03: Sara Just
Definitely a tepid evening for Newt Mo.
10:03: Alex Koppelman
I'm not sure I saw a real winner in the room tonight. But Newt didn't win it, and if that means his momentum slows or stops, then Romney's ultimately the winner for the night and beyond.
10:05: Comment From MrEmergingMedia
Santorum took some points from Gingrich tonight...just might have done well enough to hand Romney a big Florida win...Gingrich did nothing to help himself, and Romney did nothing to hurt himself...
10:05: Ramesh Ponnuru
Agree with Alex's verdict. Also: Romney has vastly improved as a result of the pressure.
10:06: Walter Shapiro
A final thought for the evening -- the media cannot keep with the Mitt is on the comeback trail narrative going until Tuesday. Something in the mood is going to change. That's it from here for the evening.
10:06: Alex Koppelman
Yes. They need to work on his Romneycare defense, though. That was a real weak spot for him tonight.
10:08: Ramesh Ponnuru
And to all a good night!
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