Mauro: Saturday’s GOP Debate: It’s Going to Get Nasty

Newt Gingrich has huge leads nationally and in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida. He’s creeping up on Romney in New Hampshire. There is only one more debate featuring all the candidates left before the January 3 caucus in Iowa, a mere three weeks away. This means that Saturday is do-or-die for every other candidate. They must all bring down Gingrich, and they won’t do it gently.

Look at Gingrich’s poll numbers to get an idea of the task ahead for his rivals. The RealClearPolitics poll averages show him ahead by about 12 points nationally, 12 points in Iowa,  21 points in South Carolina, and the latest pollout of Florida has him 13 points ahead of Romney. In New Hampshire, Romney is ahead by an average of 12 points, but the momentum from a Gingrich victory in Iowa could make it close.

That means his rivals need Gingrich to suffer a double-digit reduction in support over three weeks, especially those that are dependent upon performing well in Iowa. This will be hard, but not impossible. Polls show that about 55% of likely voters in Iowa and South Carolina, 48% in New Hampshire, and 53% in Florida are willing to change their minds. This suggests that tonight’s debate is going to be very rough on Gingrich.

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