Levi Novey: You will probably get to this question, but do you think once Jon Huntsman gets in the race he will be able to gain any traction and become a serious contender for the nomination?
John Dickerson: Huntsman has a long slow hill to climb. He's running the McCain strategy: Focus on New Hampshire independents. But he doesn't have McCain's story or flair for the public events. Also, if he really is going to rely on donations and not his personal money that will require a lot of time begging for dollars. Still, anything can happen; only three in 10 Romney supports say they'll stick with him in the latest Gallup. It's fluid.
Nicholas Wolf: What are Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman thinking in light of what they saw last night?
Dave Weigel: Good question about Huntsman/Perry. Let's remember, this was just a debate in New Hampshire, where Romney is expected to win big. And he did well as 1) Pawlenty failed to attack him and 2) Bachmann's credit rating rose as an alternative for social conservatives. So if I'm convinced I can rip the bark off of Romney and win Southern primaries, I'm more encouraged now. That's Perry. I am still bearish on Huntsman ... if we shook the media's fairy dust off him, he'd be 6 inches tall.
Dave Weigel: Obviously Huntsman sees an opportunity, but if I'm a Republican in NH, I either like Romney or I have a pretty good anti-Romney, with a good blue collar bio. Why do I go instead for a Mormon guy who grew up rich? Not saying he shouldn't run ... but what's his fresh appeal? I don't see it yet.
Dave Weigel: I mean that the good anti-Romney is Pawlenty.
Nicholas Wolf: Dave, New Hampshire voters respect a shoe-leather candidate. If Romney loses focus on pounding pavement in NH and spends a little too much time fundraising, Huntsman could maybe pull out a strong second, which the national press would go crazy over and give him momentum. Plausible?
Dave Weigel: Plausible! If Bachmann really grinds down Pawlenty and forces him to stay in Iowa, that's imaginable, but otherwise I think Pawlenty has the clearest path to second in NH.
John Dickerson: Nicholas, I don't think there's a chance Romney will take his eye off of New Hampshire or the way voters like to be stroked here.
Jeremy Addis-Mills: With the GOP presidential bid ramping up, no one really seems to be talking about Congress. How is the 2012 election expected to change or shift the balance in Congress? How might redistricting play a role if any?
Dave Weigel: Jeremy – Right now it's looking like Obama could win re-election while Democrats lose ground in Congress. Democrats who had locked down seats in North Dakota, Hawaii, and Wisconsin are retiring. In the House, I'd say redistricting gives Republicans a net of six to 10 safer seats. If the election were today I'd expect Obama to win fairly narrowly while Democrats lose the Senate and only pick up a net of five to six House seats.
Donna Roger Sauer: How would the debates change were, say, California and New York to have their primaries earlier in the cycle? The way the caucuses and primaries are set up plays to an increasingly right-wing electorate. Republican debates tend to resemble scorpions in a bottle though most kept their stingers up last night.
John Dickerson: Donna Roger Sauer, I'm not sure it would change a heaping lot because the primaries are still dominated by party activists who tend to be more conservative and ask for litmus-test-type positions.
Kevin Ransdell: Not about the debate ... Do you think Romney can survive the potential voter fraud scandal gaining traction? Republicans didn't mention much of their actual domestic agenda that they have been rolling out since January but Voter Registration as an extension of their paranoia of voter fraud seems to be a deal breaker for them.
Dave Weigel: Kevin – Is this "voter fraud scandal" the complaint against Romney for using his son's basement as a voting residence? I don't think it's going anywhere UNLESS—extremely unlikely—Romney voted somewhere else, too. It's not uncommon for people to vote in addresses they don't spend all year in. The Kennedys used to use the same apartment in Boston as a voting address. The complaint is a frivolous attention grab by the most boring fringe candidate of the cycle.
David Plotz: J and D – your Slate colleague Plotz here. You're out of the office, so I figured this was the easiest way to reach you. Can you tell me why the race isn't over? It appears to me that Romney will win this in a walk. It won't be competitive even for a few minutes. Why am I wrong?
David Sawyer: Since Plotz has made a cameo appearance, I'd like to know if Weigel will be back on the Gabfest soon?
John Dickerson: David Plotz, my dear editor, I hope you don't mind that Dave and I took the entire press corps out for drinks and to get fitted for custom-made suits last night. Your answer: Races always change. Front-runners stumble and are reborn. At this time in 2007 Clinton was up by an average of 12-13 points. Gallup had her up 16 a few days later and CBS had her up 23. McCain was up by similar margins but crashed and by November Huckabee was the front-runner. Bush looked invincible in 2000 until McCain nearly took him out in NH. Dole was the front-runner and then Forbes ate him down to size. It always changes, though I grant you it's hard to envision how that happens here, but I think the thing Romney needs to worry most about is that it looks like he'll win in a walk.
Dave Weigel: Mr. Plotz – What John said, but I'd add that Romney is stronger than the "de facto frontrunner" that he's portrayed as. His strength isn't just that it's his "turn," like Dole '96 or McCain '08. It's that the election is turning on the issue he's comfortable with: economics. Democrats are convinced they can beat up a Bain turnaround guy on that issue, but Republicans are barely trying.
John Dickerson: Dave makes the important point about Romney. For a tour of why it's the moment for his argument on economics and why there are obstacles to that argument in a general election context you can read my swing at it here.
John Dickerson: Hey David Plotz, more data for your answer: "Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis, and Bill Clinton all polled at 1% around this time in nomination campaigns they went on to win."
Ivan K. Freeman: John D – But were there strong presumptive front-runners in those races at this point?
John Dickerson: Ivan, there's not a strong presumptive front-runner now either.
Ivan K. Freeman: Well I guess the use of the adjective "strong" might be problematic. But if you Google "GOP frontrunner 2012" in the News section of the search engine, Romney appears to emerge as THE front-runner. (Not as scientific as a poll, I know.)
John Dickerson: Ivan, we're all searching for a word to use to modify Romney's front-runner status because it's soft. Momentary? Soft?
Ivan K. Freeman: Tenuous?
Robert Berry: Speaking of Flag Day, I noticed that several of the "candidates" were not wearing a flag pin on their lapel. What gives? I thought this was equal to slapping Jesus on Easter while eating a pork sandwich.
Dave Weigel: I'd compare it more to making an eagle cry while singing the Marine hymn backward.
Andrew Stebbins: Which candidate last night looked the most vice presidential? Will a "crazy" (Bachmann) need to balance the ticket with a more stable, boring candidate (of course I mean Pawlenty), and vice versa?
Dave Weigel: Andrew – Pawlenty looked the most vice presidential, given that he didn't want to bring down Romney. But to be really compelling you need to show some strength of your own with voters. Not there yet. I'd put the chances of Cain or Bachmann getting a veep slot at nil, but it'll be fun to see conservative activists demand it.