What's on the Line in Tuesday's NH GOP Debate?

There is never a shortage of issues to talk about in a presidential debate. The economy, jobs and President Obama’s mishandling of those and other issues can easily be beaten to death in an hour and a half. But Tuesday’s GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire may come with some added spice given the comments that were made during the Values Voter Summit last weekend in Washington.

Nonetheless, the topic of Tuesday’s Washington Post/Bloomberg debate is the economy and that is music to Mitt Romney’s ears as he seeks to move away from social and religious issues. And while most pundits agree it’s now a three-person race now that former Atlanta businessman Herman Cain’s poll numbers have gone north, both Reps. Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann will be fighting to air time.

The question is, now that Cain is considered a front-runner, will his fellow colleagues still treat him as an afterthought or with kid-gloves as they have in previous debates?

Cain is still touting his 9-9-9 tax plan but analysts say the numbers don’t add up enough to get the nation back on solid financial footing and Cain will be pressed to provide specifics if he expects the plan to be taken seriously.

Romney, who has praised Cain’s business background, has also taken shots at his lack of political experience now that an NBC News-Marist poll shows Cain just three points behind Romney in Iowa.

“I was able to find ways to use my skills in a public sector setting, probably something – if I were Herman [Cain] – I’d say I wish I had that too because you don’t want to necessarily learn that for the first time as the president of the United States,” Romney said in a question and answer with students on Monday.

“Both Herman Cain and I spent our lives in the private sector, and that’s probably why we’re doing so well,” Romney also said, taking a convenient swipe at Perry’s lack of private sector experience.

Even more interesting is that among likely Iowa caucus attendees who support Tea Party positions, Cain has a 41 to 7 lead over Romney. Paul, who won Saturday’s Values Voter straw poll, is third, at 11 percent. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Bachmann tie for fourth at 10 percent.

What voters will be paying particular attention to is if Perry can bounce back after a challenging two weeks of dropping poll numbers. Perry, who has a tremendous fundraising network, will need to start flexing his muscles if he expects stay atop the leader board and not see his numbers tumble as Bachmann’s have.

One other thing voters will notice is if the debate will go in other directions, especially after comments were made by Perry supporter and Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress that Mormonism is a “cult.”

Romney may not bring up the subject but former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who is also a Mormon, may bring it up. He has nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing so.

The 90-minute debate in Hanover, N.H., starts at 8 p.m. EDT.

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