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Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich to face off in Texas debate

November 05, 2011|By Robin Abcarian
(Chris Usher/CBS News/Getty…)

Reporting from The Woodlands, Tex. — Herman Cain, who had a big bowl full of the wrong kind of attention this week, and Newt Gingrich, who needs all the attention he can  get, are preparing to meet this evening in Rick Perry country for a two-man debate that promises to be long on civility and short on salacious allegations of sexual harassment.

A fundraiser for the Texas Tea Party Patriots (with tickets that range in price from $200 to $1,000), the debate, at a golf resort north of Houston, is to focus on subjects dear to the heart of tea partyers: entitlement spending and the national debt. “Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security,” said moderator U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa. “I hope we can focus on Obamacare too. That’s an entitlement.”

When asked whether he would mention the sexual harassment scandal that roiled Cain’s campaign all week,  King practically snorted:  “No! I am not gonna talk about that!”

The format for the 90-minute debate, to be broadcast on C-SPAN at 5 p.m. Pacific time (and streamed live at KSEVRadio.com) will be what organizers call a “modified” Lincoln-Douglas debate style. Those legendary debates took place in 1858 between Illinois U.S. Senate candidates Abraham Lincoln, the Republican challenger, and Stephen Douglas, the Democratic incumbent. The debates were notable for the candidates speaking for 60- and 90-minute stretches, uninterrupted. Not exactly an exciting format for today’s short attention spans.

As former House Speaker Gingrich walked into the site with his wife, Callista, we asked whether he planned to speak for 90 minutes uninterrupted, as in the original debates. “No,” he replied. “That’s Obama.”

King joked that because the two Georgians in the race are debating in Texas, someone ought to get the two Texans in the race to debate in Georgia. (That would be Texas Gov. Perry and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.)

Despite Cain's rough week, which began last Sunday when Politico reported he’d faced sexual harassment allegations while running the National Restaurant Assn. in the late 1990s, he remains at the top of polls, neck and neck with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He has said that last week was one of his best fundraising weeks.  Friday evening, Gingrich was a hit at the Republican Party of Iowa’s annual dinner, garnering the warmest reception of the five candidates who showed up. (Cain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney did not appear.) Some political observers have predicted that Gingrich -- who has often taken the role of the elder statesman on the stump and in debates, refusing to criticize his rivals, and instead turning his fire on President Obama—is about to have a moment in the sun.

King wasn’t sure about that, but he didn’t downplay the evening:  “Here tonight, this could be a debate that could be very significant in turning the direction of the contest.”

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