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2012: Fight night

“Michele Bachmann is the Republican to beat among the eight candidates who will appear on an Iowa stage for tonight’s nationally televised debate, according to campaign strategists and Iowa politics watchers,” the Des Moines Register writes. Tim Pawlenty has the most to lose, while Mitt Romney just needs to cruise through without a mistake, they said.” 

The Hill: “For GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, the debate is about showing voters in Iowa he isn't ignoring the state. For Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), it's a chance to build momentum ahead of Saturday's contest, a crucial stepping stone to a January win in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. And for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, it might just be a chance to stay in the race." 

Politico: “Forget about the pledges of civility and the widespread reluctance to engage in explicit personal attacks. The polite phase of the 2012 campaign is about to come to an end. When eight Republicans face off in the first Iowa debate Thursday night, almost all of them will be feeling pressure to get noticed — and get tougher.”

USA Today: “Hanging over the heads of all candidates is the impending candidacy of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who will appear at two events in New Hampshire and South Carolina on Saturday and arrive in Iowa on Sunday.” 

BACHMANN: “Rather than rallying the crowd with the social or religious causes she is well known for, the Minnesota Republican focuses on her longtime opposition to raising the debt ceiling,” the Boston Globe writes from Iowa. More: “Efforts to denounce any hike in the debt ceiling are sure to dominate a nationally televised debate tonight, the well-known Ames straw poll Saturday, and, in between, a parade of candidate speeches at the Iowa State Fair. After weeks of debate in the rarefied halls of the Capitol, the issue will get a full airing in the heartland. Iowa is the only state whose entire congressional delegation - three Republicans, four Democrats - voted against the debt ceiling deal.”

Roll Call delves into Bachmann’s state Senate days: “When Rep. Michele Bachmann arrived in the Minnesota state Senate a decade ago, some of her colleagues quickly labeled her a conspiracy theorist. When she spoke on the Senate floor or in committee meetings, they mockingly rolled their pointer fingers in the air to symbolize black helicopters.”

GINGRICH: On FOX yesterday, Gingrich discussed tonight’s GOP debate, per NBC’s Matt Loffman: I'm going to focus what America needs to get done. I'm not going to focus on President Obama.  I think everybody understands he's failing. The question is what will succeed. This isn't just partisan politics. It isn't just name-calling. The question is what is each candidate solution at a time when America's economy is in danger and desperate trouble. And I think we need to have a real focus on how we would lead, what we would propose, and how we would  get things done in a positive way.”

NBC’s Alex Moe adds that Gingrich and his family participated in the Iowa State Fair Parade in downtown Des Moines last night. Gingrich walked with the Polk Co. GOP as crowds of people lined Grand Street. He waved to onlookers and stopped to shake a few hands. Moe believes that Gingrich was the only presidential candidate who participated in the parade.

PALIN: What else is new? “A State Fair spokeswoman said no one from Palin’s staff has contacted the fair,” the Des Moines Register’s Jacobs writes. 

The Hill writes that Palin’s “trip could undercut attention for Saturday’s straw poll, in which such GOP candidates as Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty are hoping to gain momentum.”

PAUL: NBC’s Anthony Terrell reports that Sen. Rand Paul joined his father, presidential candidate Ron Paul, at four campaign stops in Iowa yesterday -- Mason City, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, and Des Moines -- in an effort to fire up supporters to show up and vote in Ames.  In each event, Sen. Paul introduced his dad and participated in question and answer sessions.  After previewing his father’s predictions about the housing bubble and the bailout of Wall Street in Waterloo, Senator Paul says his dad’s campaign slogan should be “Ron Paul was right.”  

During his final stop in Des Moines, Sen. Paul challenged Mitt Romney to a family baseball game in Ames on Saturday, Terrell adds. “We have a challenge for the Romney family. We have five kids in our family and 30 some odd grandkids. We have a baseball bat and a plastic ball and we challenge them on the lawn at Ames on Saturday to a baseball game.” (One problem with the challenge: Romney won’t be in Iowa on Saturday; he heads to New Hampshire on Friday.)

PAWLENTY: After again using tough talk in a run up to a debate, Pawlenty looks like he might back away. This week, he has said he was going to “bring the hammer down,” and even likened President Obama to a “manure spreader in a windstorm.” But don’t expect that tough talk at the debate tonight, according to his campaign manager. NBC’s Andrew Rafferty reports: Nick Ayers said because of all the campaign stops, they've had little time for debate prep, and it’s one reason to expect the same calm candidate from the South Carolina and New Hampshire debates. And another reason not to expect fireworks out of the governor -- it's not his style. The campaign wants Pawlenty to be himself and not stray outside his comfort zone, Ayers said. They don't feel any soundbite, in particular, will pay off in the long run.

PERRY: Per NBC’s Ali Weinberg, Iowa GOP Congressman Steve King told NBC News yesterday he thinks it “would have been better” for Rick Perry to participate in the Ames straw poll, if he wants to run for president and win the Iowa caucus. “I think if he wants to compete well in Iowa in the caucus, it would have been better for him to either show up here in the Straw Poll or pick another day to make his announcement,” King said.

College football fans have a reason to pay attention to Rick Perry too now. He's commented publicly on the possibility of his alma mater, Texas A&M, moving to the SEC.

ROMNEY: “Mitt Romney announced today that he’ll win Iowa in November 2012, if he’s the GOP nominee. An amazing statement, given that he’s making only his fourth campaign trip to Iowa this year,” the Des Moines Register’s Obradovich writes, before adding, “He didn’t predict that he’ll win the caucuses, which was wise. His comments suggest he’ll be spending more time in the caucus state this fall. But he can’t just come back for debates. Even today’s event in Pella was far too sterile — invited participants talking in front of an audience made up entirely of media.”

GOP 12: “Mitt Romney tells Sean Hannity why he's not competing in Saturday's straw poll in Ames, Iowa.” Romney said, "I want to use my financial resources and my time, this time, to actually get delegates -- not just straw polls that are nice but don't get you delegates.  So I'm not going to participate in straw polls anywhere in the country.... straw polls -- I've been there, had that experience, learned from it, and we're going to start to get the nomination, this time." 

The Statesman's Jason Embry notices a familiar name in Texas circles on a Romney fundraising invitation.