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GOP Presidential Hopefuls Set To Debate


The Republican candidates for president will gather for another debate tonight, this time in Orlando, Florida. It's sponsored by Fox News and YouTube, and some of the questions will be submitted by homemade video from voters. The debate also comes as a new two-man dynamic is emerging in the race: Texas Governor Rick Perry versus former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.


Mara, what do you expect tonight from these two men, the former frontrunner Romney and the new frontrunner Perry?

MARA LIASSON: Perry has been fighting back with an attack on Romney that questions Romney's conservative credentials - which is Romney's weakness - saying that Romney sounds like a Democrat. He's trying to scare seniors about Social Security. And yesterday, he said Romney - as he often does in the past - has forgotten he's a Republican.

NORRIS: Governor Perry made quite an entrance into this race. He rocketed to the top of the field as soon as he got in. Have the attacks from Romney, the attacks from the other candidates, the intense media scrutiny - has all of this taken a bit of a toll on his record and his standing?

LIASSON: But Perry is a newcomer. As Karl Rove said this week, his support is based on what people believe him to be rather than what they know him to be and they're just getting to know him. He has seemed, surprisingly to some Republicans, unprepared in the two debates that he's participated in so far, hasn't really gotten his sea legs yet, but he still is the frontrunner.

NORRIS: And is this, in some ways, more than just a fistfight between the would-be frontrunners? Is this also an ideological clash? Do Romney and Perry represent two very different wings of the GOP?

LIASSON: But a lot of Republicans say, why should we think about that when the president looks so weak? There's a new poll out that shows President Obama under a 40 percent approval rating in Florida and they're thinking either of these guys could win, why not go with the guy we like better?

NORRIS: Perry and Romney won't be the only two people on that stage. There will be nine candidates all together on stage, including former New Mexico governor, Gary Johnson. How can the other candidates hope to break through this evening?

LIASSON: I don't know if the other candidates can. I think this really is a two-man race, but I do think the stakes are highest for Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who damaged herself by making a comment after the last debate that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation. There wasn't any evidence that was correct and she was roundly criticized for it, so the stakes are highest for her.

NORRIS: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, speaking to us from Orlando. Mara, thank you very much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Michele. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.