Iowa GOP Debate: Dickerson and Weigel Chat With Readers About the Iowa Caucuses

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Dec. 16 2011 6:16 PM

Waiting for the Next Big Surge

John Dickerson and David Weigel take your questions about the final GOP debate before the Iowa Caucuses.

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The SEC also charged three former Freddie Mac executives—former Chairman of the Board and CEO Richard F. Syron, former Executive Vice President and Chief Business Officer Patricia L. Cook, and former Executive Vice President for the Single Family Guarantee business Donald J. Bisenius—in a separate complaint filed in the same court.

Roland Paquette: Personally, I think if anyone can tie Newt to corruption at Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, of which there is plenty to go around, he's toast.

Dave Weigel: Roland—a fair question! The Freddie execs who might have benefited from Gingrich's "historical advice" have not rushed to microphones to explain what actually happened. Microphones became even scarier-looking to them today. This would be a fair line of questioning for Gingrich in an interview.

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Roland Paquette: Thanks Dave...Exactly why I posed the question. I am hoping someone asks the tough questions.

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Dan Fagnant: Who has the most to gain from a stronger than expected Iowa showing and how well must Bachmann and Santorum finish in order to keep their campaigns alive post Iowa?

Dave Weigel: Dan—great question, because the media plays an outsized role in determining who "won." It's based on who the conventional wisdom expected to win the day before the vote. I'd say that Rick Perry has the most to gain if, say, he pulls a surprise third place in the caucus. He's tightened up his debate performances, he has a national fundraising network (even if it's Texas-heavy), he has Super PAC support. He'd have just pulled an upset—even if it was weaker than you might have expected from him a month ago—and positioned himself as a serious candidate when the Southern primaries begin. I'd say Santorum has the least to gain even if he does well, because frankly (with apologies to Newt) the press expects social-issues-first candidates to outperform in caucuses.

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Eric Anderson: With proportional primaries, can any candidate have a breakthrough win? Or as Romney has hinted, will this be a long slog?

John Dickerson: Eric, yes! Assuming that the candidate has money and to a lesser extent organization, but I am not sure who that candidate would be. You could imagine a late dash into the contest by some superman candidate but that's mostly a fantasy of column writers

Dave Weigel: Eric—glad you asked, because this is a common misconception. The GOP will NOT have proportional primaries the way the Democrats did in 2008. States holding primaries before April 1 will award delegates proportionately, but not with the rounding system that Democrats used in 2008. That system ended up spotting Barack Obama a lot of votes. The response of many states to the PR rule has been to push the primaries back. I'm watching PR and think it can keep the race going past February, but I don't imagine it'll prevent any candidate from winning fairly early.

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Alex Saltzberg: What happened to the Telemundo debate?

Dave Weigel: Alex—it went nowhere. You didn't ask about this, but a similar Hispanic voter-focused debate skedded for Univision fell apart because Republicans pulled out, claiming to protest a hit piece that the network was running on Marco Rubio. Yes. Missed opportunities.

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Chad E. Burns: With the space between now and Iowa and Gingrich's current trend, does having the debate break and holiday distraction help or harm his lead? Does it help someone else at his expense?

John Dickerson: Chad, good question. I think it could go either way. If the negative ads and the general attacks against Gingrich are biting then he has no way to defend himself that will punch through the holidays and get to voters. On the other hand if Romney has to knock Gingrich back, with every passing day that he can't do it the attention span of voters disappears into the eggnog and the holiday wrapping paper.

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Ben Florsheim: How is the Santorum Surge Watch looking?

Dave Weigel: Ben—I've moved on to anticipation of a Perry surge watch! The search for the surge is largely an audit of campaign coverage looking for a reason that candidate X may surge, and I haven't seen much of that for Santorum lately. If you see it, though ...

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John Dickerson: Okay they're kicking me out of my hotel room. The laptop didn't blow up at least. Thanks for your questions everyone!

Dave Weigel: That was fun! Thanks for commenting, and please keep nagging/tipping me off at the usual Slate digs.

Pat Wente: This was a great exchange. Thanks to all!

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.