The political terrain invites the slaps. "If one could be judged conservative by association, then each of the leading Republicans would be golden. Leading up to the debate, the candidates have been touting endorsements from prominent conservative leaders," Wes Allison writes in the St. Petersburg Times. "But the list may say more about the fractured state of the right -- and the uncertainty of the outcome of the Republican race -- than about who's the true conservative."
Says Tony Perkins: "If you could do a mix and match among the candidates, you could probably create a perfect candidate within the mix." (Surely if there's a way, YouTube has found it.)
If the last YouTube debate is any guide -- and if the YouTube users themselves have anything to do with it -- Wednesday's debate should toss the candidates some curveballs. (There's a reason they were scared of the format.)
Get ready for a "dip in the culturally and politically treacherous waters of YouTube," per Gannett's Chuck Raasch.
Going into the debate, Romney's on the offensive, but he's also being forced into playing some defense. In the wake of the Tuesday's Christian Science Monitor op-ed, alleging that Romney said he "cannot see" appointing a Muslim to his Cabinet, Talking Points Memo's Greg Sargent has details of another occasion where the subject of Muslims came up.
Sargent reports: "Irma Aguirre, a former finance director of the Nevada Republican Party, paraphrased Romney as saying: 'They're radical. There's no talking to them. There's no negotiating with them.'"
Romney's response to the mini-controversy -- "I don't have boxes that I check off as to their ethnicity" -- is the "right" answer. But this is a candidate who still has questions about religion dogging him like a campaign tracker.
He's gotten plenty of advice on whether to give the big Mormon speech at some point, though this voice may be worth listening to. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told a group of college students Tuesday that Romney needs a "JFK moment," per the Salt Lake Tribune's Donald W. Meyers.
Hatch went further afterward, in an interview with the AP. "There's a concern that his religious beliefs might interfere with serving all people. There's no question they do not," said Hatch, also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "He needs to put that problem to bed."
"That problem" is awake and roaming around Iowa in large part because of Huckabee's rise. "The religious divide over Mitt Romney's Mormon faith that his supporters had long feared would occur is emerging in Iowa as he is being challenged in state polls by Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor who has played up his faith in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination," Michael Luo writes in The New York Times. "Mr. Huckabee's advisers admit privately they are cognizant of how Mr. Romney's religion can work against him and how Mr. Huckabee's evangelical roots are to their advantage at least among some voters."
"Social conservative single-issue voters seem to have decided, en masse, to coalesce around Huckabee and use Iowa to prove to the world that they still matter in the Republican Party and are tired of being taken advantage of," The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder writes. "This dynamic, which Republican operatives working for all candidates perceive, is hard to break. And Huckabee can run what would be, in effect, an anti-Mormon campaign solely by legitimately appealing to evangelicals' identity interests."