This is it.
The Republican presidential candidates will have one last chance on the national stage Thursday night to make their case to voters before the frantic season of caucuses and primaries gets underway. At the Fox News debate in Sioux City, Iowa, everybody but front-runner Newt Gingrich is looking to shake up the race in a big way.
In a primary campaign replete with gaffes and other “oops” moments, the candidates are under pressure to give a steady performance — they don’t want another public misstep hanging in the cold Iowa air for the three remaining weeks before the caucuses. For the middle-of-the-pack candidates, the debate is a chance to demonstrate why caucus-goers should give them a second look. For Gingrich and Mitt Romney, it’s a chance to lock down notoriously fickle and straying support.
“This is a clean-up debate,” said Steffen Schmidt, political science professor at Iowa State University. “It’s sort of the county fair right before the state fair … where they want to see whether that pony is lame or not.”
And minds are not quite made up. “They really are waiting for somebody to close the deal. And nobody has,” Schmidt said.