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First South Carolina Debate: Can Romney Be Stopped?

Santorum has been focusing his sights on Ron Paul and Gingrich. His strategy against Paul is to argue that his libertarianism prevents him from being adequately conservative on social issues. Santorum is going after him for opposing federal bans on abortion and gay marriage. Santorum has broadened his argument against Gingrich, going beyond mentioning his past support for the individual health care mandate and supporting global warming solutions with Nancy Pelosi.

Santorum is bringing attention to his rocky time as speaker of the House and says that Gingrich has never run a statewide race. Santorum is wisely criticizing Gingrich’s attacks on Romney over Bain Capital. He is tapping into the backlash against him, and it is inevitable that this will come up tonight. When it does, Santorum will be sitting nicely to benefit.

Ron Paul will do the same thing he has always done, except he may gamble that his anti-interventionist philosophy will appeal to veteran voters. You can bet he’ll mention the fact that he’s served and that he gets more contributions from soldiers than all the others combined.

Rick Perry’s overall message will be that he’s the ultimate “outsider.” He’s outside of Washington, D.C. and outside of Wall Street. He rails against the D.C. culture and is siding with Gingrich against “vulture capitalism” in order to tap into anti-Wall Street sentiment. For this reason, he has suggested Ron Paul for chairman of the Federal Reserve. By doing this, he could win support from those who are backing Ron Paul because of his “outsider” status and stance on domestic issues but are concerned about his foreign policy. And, of course, he’ll mention his military service in order to win support from veterans.

The main things to look for tonight are whether Romney appears thin-skinned, thus hurting his electability argument, and whether new arguments against him are introduced. His health care policy has been talked about endlessly and so have his flip-flops. These criticisms are old and won’t affect the polls anymore. If the candidates want to bring down Romney in South Carolina, they’ll need something new.