Last night, the seven remaining Republican candidates squared off in Sioux City, Iowa, in the final debate before the race to the nomination begins. The starting pistol will be fired just three weeks from now, with the Iowa caucus on Jan. 3.
Frontrunners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney held center stage in last night's debate, but avoided doing direct battle, preferring to set their sights on the sitting president. Most of the sparks came from the other contenders.
Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann skewered Gingrich for accepting a $1.6 million consulting job with Freddie Mac; he later accused her of misstating the facts about his record on abortion. Bachmann also tangled with Texas Representative Ron Paul over foreign policy, after Paul espoused caution over waging war on Muslim countries.
Romney chose to highlight his private-sector experience in contrast with Obama's, saying that the president "doesn't know how the economy works." No clear winner emerged from the evening, leaving the Iowa contest to be anybody's guess.
While Romney is the favorite in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary election on Jan. 10, a win for Gingrich in Iowa might pave the way for him to surge ahead there, and in the other upcoming primaries in South Carolina and Florida. Meanwhile, Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman hope to gain some ground, but without a showing in Iowa, their campaigns might just grind to a halt.
With so much at stake, how did the candidates do in last night's debate? Can Gingrich learn to tame his 'zany' demeanor? Will ultra-conservatives rally behind Romney? After Iowa, will this finally become a two-man race? Who do you want to see go up against Obama in 2012?
Arnold Steinberg, veteran Republican political strategist and analyst
Jonathan Wilcox, Republican Strategist and adjunct professor at University of Southern California; former speech writer for Governor Pete Wilson