Iowa Turning Point

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Congressional correspondent for Bloomberg News Lisa Lerer offers context and analysis of the coming days in Iowa, from the debate tonight through to the Ames Straw Poll on Saturday.

The next 48 hours in Iowa are a critical test for GOP presidential hopefuls. How the eight perform in the debate and the Straw Poll isn't necessarily an indication of who will win the nomination, but it will separate the wheat from the chaff.

Of course they will not mince words in their Obama-attacks, but the big question for tonight is will they draw their swords on each other? Front runner Mitt Romney (who won the Straw Poll four years ago and whose campaign quickly imploded thereafter) and hyped-up Michele Bachmann may need to amp up their defense forces.

Lerer noted that Romney was recently criticized campaign groupie Sarah Palin and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman for saying he wouldn't have supported the deal to raise the debt ceiling.

Which I think indicates a phase we're entering where these candidates are more and more going to start attacking each other and focusing their fire on taking out their opponents.

Michele Bachmann - Hype or hope?

The candidates are invested in talking to their bases in Iowa, as well as courting Independents. The later is where Michele Bachmann may have some trouble, according to Lerer.

One thing that I think is interesting is the type of scrutiny she's getting. The things people are pointing out about her background is some of exactly what her supporters love about her.

Will Bachmann be able to build broader support? Does she have the campaign apparatus to mobilize people? She certainly sticks to her guns, but that could be a liability.

The White House would love to see her do well, they think of her as someone who will not appeal to Independent voters, they see her as someone who would be a bit easier for President Obama to match up with.

Rick Perry - Will he steal the show?

Coming off a much publicized prayer-rally last weekend, the Texan Governor is planning to announce *something* right in the midst of the Iowa festivities. Perry has support of Conservatives, and he has a strong record as Governor. A formal announcement of his candidacy is expected next week, but unless the present candidates rock the boat, he may wrest away the spotlight.

Will any lower tiered candidates drop out if they don't do well?

Potentially. Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman need some sparks to fly in their campaigns.  But the candidate with the most at stake seems to be Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. He's spent a lot of time and a lot of money in Iowa and it's unclear if that's paid off. It certainly has not won him traction at the polls.

Stay tuned here on It's A Free Country, and participate in our Live Chat during the debate.