Tonight’s debate is the first of these gatherings since Herman Cain supplanted Rick Perry in the polls as Mitt Romney’s chief rival. That means that Cain’s performance tonight will not be judged on a curve as perhaps he had been in the past when few took him seriously as potential president. While it is certain that Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum will take shots at Cain since they see him as their prime obstacle to first tier status, it remains to be seen whether the sinking Perry or even Romney will also subject the affable former pizza magnate to some tough questions. If so, that will be something of a compliment for Cain but it will also put him on the spot since he has never before been subjected to the sort of scrutiny that he is about to face.
Other questions that will be answered concern Perry and Romney.
Perry’s dismal performance in the past four debates has caused all but his most ardent supporters to give up on him as his precipitous decline in the polls show. It seems almost impossible to imagine him changing many minds tonight but after so many unsuccessful tries, it may be that he will finally make some sort of positive impression.
As for the frontrunner Romney, the question is whether he will continue to focus his fire on Republican rivals or if he will start to concentrate his fire on the man he hopes to face next November. With a long way to go before the first votes start to be counted in January, Romney has to be careful not to seem overconfident.
The debate is about to begin so let’s see what happens.