New Hampshire GOP Debate: The Likely Zinger Questions

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GOP presidential hopefuls debate in South Carolina in January 2008.

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After months of spring games and fan meet-and-greets, today is Opening Day in New Hampshire. Seven Republican contenders are facing off tonight in the first primary debate in this first primary state.

And in case you’ve been distracted by contests that are actually consequential at this point, like the Sox and the Yankees for example, here’s a guide to the curveballs CNN’s John King is likely to throw out.



Mitt Romney: Wait, what’s your position on the auto bailout again?

Romney's homecoming to Michigan last week was not really a warm one, if the shouts of “you were wrong!” are any indication. The son of a Michigan governor and car executive, Romney was outspoken in his opposition to the bailout in 2008. Now Obama’s former car czar Steven Rattner says he’s trying to misrepresent his previous position, and Politifact also called out Romney last week for saying only a “a small share” of the auto bailout funds have been repaid. In fact, it’s closer to roughly half.

Tim Pawlenty: Aren’t you at least partly responsible for Minnesota’s current budget woes?

Pawlenty governed Minnesota for two terms on a platform of cutting spending and blocking the Democratic legislature’s attempts to raise taxes. But now, the state faces a massive budget shortfall, which has led some Minnesotans to question whether his budget maneuvers were really all that prudent. Pawlenty has repeatedly answered criticism of his fiscal legacy, countering that “autopilot” spending increases are to blame, but look for the question to come up again.

Herman Cain: Nevermind the ‘experts,’ what’s your position on Afghanistan?

Cain punted on the Afghanistan question during the first Republican debate in South Carolina, saying he would rely on “the experts and their advice and their input.” After some encouraging polls and media pickup (including this Washington Post profile that concludes his momentum is “raising some serious questions for the GOP.”), Cain’s got another shot at articulating his position on the war – and proving that he can develop some foreign policy chops.

Newt Gingrich: Is your campaign over?

In other words, will Americans vote for a man whose staff abandoned him? When those closest to you jump ship—and when they all do it together—it sets off alarms. Gingrich has plenty of scars to keep him from winning people over; losing friends could kill him in that respect.

Ron Paul: What if you get hijacked?

Ron Paul can’t claim likability, but he can claim uniqueness and consistency. His policy palette is distinct and relatively free of contradiction (see: Mitt Romney), and it has been for a long time. But if the country is really moving in his direction, what’s to stop Tim Pawlenty or any other candidate from hijacking the most popular parts of his platform? Paul’s high on policy and low on appeal—if his policies go mainstream, the candidate could get left out in the cold.

Rick Santorum: Are Americans conservative enough for you?

With a plurality of Americans now in favor of same-sex marriage and our national waffling over abortion rights, can someone so socially conservative avoid alienating large swaths of the electorate? The field of candidates is crowded with similar policy outlines, and Santorum becomes “that guy”: the anti-homosexual, anti-abortion politician who wants to teach creationism in public schools. What's his case to Republicans that he's the candidate who can beat Obama?

Michele Bachmann: What did you really mean when you said we should ‘wean everybody’ off Social Security and Medicare?

We all saw the public backlash from the GOP’s Medicare voucher proposal, which makes Bachmann’s more forceful claim that we should “wean everybody” off government entitlement programs potentially toxic. The Republican Party can’t even get all of their politicians behind the voucher plan. Bachmann’s phrasing was ambiguous, and she could be left deciding whether she meant the programs should move toward privatization, face some other kind of reorganization, or be phased out completely. There’s probably no correct answer.