Is Newt Ready for His First Debate as Front Runner?

Because it's a Tuesday, it's time for another Republican presidential debate; only this time, the pressure is on Newt Gingrich to see if he can succeed where so many others have failed.

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The 2012 primary race has followed a familiar pattern so far. Previously unheralded and little known candidate surges to head of the polls. The media and the public express surprise and amazement. The media and the public then start actually looking at the candidate's background and positions. The spotlight zeros in on the front runner. Another televised debate happens and the front runner implodes on state. Rinse. Repeat.

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It happened to Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and then Herman Cain. (Ron Paul and Rick Santorum have always been exactly where they are now.) There are a few differences for Newt Gingrich, however, who now leads Mitt Romney in several polls. One is that he has way more experience on the national stage. He's way more confident and polished when it comes to debating and is unlikely to have a gaffe that involves simple public speaking. Also, his campaign already had an implosion, before it even got started, when most of key staff quit over the summer. Somehow he kept slogging along and is finally getting a serious look.

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Also, tonight's debate should play to one of Gingrich's strengths. The topic is national security, and no matter what you think of Gingrich's opinions on the matter, he's adamant about them and has been spouting on TV and in op-eds for decades. As the former Speaker of the House, he'll be the only one on the stage who can reasonably say he's played a role (such as it was) in matters of foreign policy. It will also make it harder to steer the conversations toward the stories that have dogged Gingrich the last few days, like his business dealings or his personal life. He just isn't going to make the kind of classic debate mistake that makes him stupid or uniformed. He is a history teacher, after all.

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Still, it seems the worst thing that can happen to any candidates is to actually have people listen to you. Most people tend to become less popular once everyone knows what you stand for. The other candidates are likely to focus all their attacks on you, which can often end with you looking defensive and angry. As one pundit puts it, "Newt is a great candidate, as long as he is not in contention." Well, he's certainly in contention ... for now. We'll see how long this one lasts.