Here’s the teaser:
When it comes to debates, which have had an outsized effect on polls and on primary and election results, it was a role-reversal for Gingrich and Romney, and something that Gingrich needs to remedy Thursday night.
“Voters can smell fear and they can smell confidence. Newt has been displaying confidence, strength, even having fun in these debates. He needs to continue that. That’s the mark of a leader,” says Alex Castellanos, a GOP strategist and CNN contributor.
With five days to go until the primary, the CNN/Time/ORC poll indicates that a quarter of likely primary voters say they may change their mind on which candidate they are backing, which makes the debate a final chance for the candidates to reach a statewide audience, as well as viewers across the nation. The economy — and jobs in particular — the housing crisis, which is particularly acute in Florida, illegal immigration and health care reform are topics likely to be debated during the showdown.
But undecided voters might be tuned into more than just the issues.
“There is only a smidgeon of difference between Gingrich and Romney on issues. That means they are going to draw differences on personal qualities and character: Who is the stronger leader? Who is a flawed vessel for the nation’s hopes and fears?” added Castellanos, who was a top media adviser for Romney’s 2008 nomination bid but who is not taking sides this cycle.
“Voters don’t know what tests a president will face, but they do know he’ll be tested. When picking a president, how a leader reacts under pressure is more important than issues. Romney should not appear stressed or uncertain on the attack. He needs to display confidence and be a joyous warrior, like Gingrich.”
Gingrich’s campaign was left for dead after early stumbles in May and June, but he came back and soared to front-runner status in polling in late November and early December. But he faltered again, with poor showings in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, before mounting a second comeback in South Carolina.
That made Romney’s path to the nomination a lot tougher now that it was a week ago.
“Romney must think these debates are ‘The Night of Living Dead,’ ” Castellanos said. “Newt Gingrich keeps rising from the grave every few weeks to challenge him. And every time he does, he’s a little harder to dispatch. Wooden stakes and silver bullets don’t seem to stop Gingrich. He keeps coming back.”
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