Tampa Debate: Newt Gingrich Could Face His Freddie Mac Moment

One would think that after 17 GOP presidential debates, everything the remaining candidates have to say has already been said.

Hardly. In fact, debate No. 18 -- Monday at 9 p.m., Eastern time, in Tampa, Fla., airing on NBC – is the most important yet. The campaign of Mitt Romney, coming off a crushing defeat Saturday in the South Carolina primary, is in crisis. Newt Gingrich, the victor in South Carolina by 12 points and now solidly ahead in the latest polls out of Florida, faces fresh scrutiny of his record and temperament.

The other two candidates on stage, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, will also play a role – both in promoting themselves and in softening up the two leaders.

Most under the gun is Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. He has to clean up his message and generate passion, says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. By promising to release his 2010 and 2011 tax returns on Tuesday, Romney at least moves off his defensive posture of the past two debates.

But he has to get back to making a positive case for himself, both in tone and substance. “The best way for Mitt to generate passion is by making a winning argument, something he has not done in five years of campaigning,” says Mr. O’Connell, who advised the McCain campaign in 2008.

“Routinely touting corporate experience and one's understanding of the economy while dispensing hollow phrases like ‘Believe in America’ aren’t going to cut it, and frankly they don't motivate anyone to do anything,” O’Connell says. “He needs to start by changing his message and focus it on bigger ideas like curbing entitlements and dealing with the debt.”

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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published this page in In The News 2012-01-23 17:45:21 -0500
Analysis & Political Strategy