3:24 pm ET: Apologies all around, but did a debate just happen and I missed it? That makes for a great afternoon for Mike Huckabee, much less so for Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, and the rest. We’ll be back shortly with a "FootNote" of sorts, and all the analysis will be in tomorrow’s Note.
3:22 pm ET: Nobody biting on what could have been a fun question, about New Year’s resolutions for an opponent! We are petering out here…
3:21 pm ET: McCain was really not a factor this afternoon, which may be OK, because he’s not a factor in the caucuses either (as he’s the first to admit).
3:13 pm ET: An interesting Huckabee clip: "It’s ludicrous to say, I have faith, but it doesn’t influence me at all."
3:10 pm ET: Another unintended higlight: "Governor Romney, would you like to respond?" Romney: "I’m not sure." Then he explains — again — his migration on abortion. And Giuliani explaining his position on abortion, again. Isn’t this how all these debates started, all those many, many months ago?
3:08 pm ET: Unintended highlight: Rudy saying that New Yorkers knew every single thing he did as he did it. Uncomfortable laughter ensues… "I can’t think of a public figure who’s been more transparent," Giuliani said.
3:04 pm ET: Maybe this will change in the final 26 minutes, but this is a news-free event. Again, Huckabee’s got to be happy.
2:59 pm ET: Here’s a bold goal from Fred Thompson for his first year as president: "I’d try to establish my credibility." If you don’t have that by the time you’re inaugurated, well, you’re not going to be inaugurated.
2:51 pm ET: Huckabee can handle Tom Tancredo or Alan Keyes any day — what he has to worry about is Romney attacking.
2:48 pm ET: Good Huckabee line: "Weapons of mass instruction." But I wonder if his support for arts funding opens him up to criticism from fiscal conservatives. And make Alan Keyes go away!!!!
2:46 pm ET: Rulebook Romney wants to keep everyone to 60 seconds. Why not let the moderator moderate?
2:45 pm ET: At the halfway point, I’m hard-pressed to name a single highlight, other than Fred Thompson slapping down the editor of the Des Moines Register. That’s good for Huckabee, and Romney for that matter — nobody’s done anything to take them down even a little bit so far.
2:41: pm ET: Gosh, Huckabee’s good. So far, best free statement of the afternoon.
2:37 pm ET: Sammy — I don’t think Huckabee wins if he attacks other people. He’d love to keep this as a positive, agreeable exchange — that’s why people like him.
2:36 pm ET: I’m sorry, Ambassador Keyes, but it’s not that you’ve been silenced, but that you’ve been silent. Where have you been for the past year, when everyone else was running for president.
2:34 pm ET: Romney’s on the optimism thing again — confronting climate change will help our economy. "That the beauty of what we’re talking about here." Is there anything we can’t do with a little sugar?
2:32 pm ET: Fred Thompson leads the no-hand-show rebellion! And then slaps down the moderator!! There goes the Register endorsement…
2:28 pm ET: Rudy Giuliani: "NAFTA has been a good thing." Another one of those lines that reminds you that Democrats and Republicans are apparently residing on different planets. And then there’s Tom Tancredo, coming from another planet altogether.
2:26 pm ET: I’ve got to think Huckabee does well as long as no one lays a glove on anyone else — he’s good with a line, and probably reinforcing positive perceptions with every sentence he delivers.
2:25 pm ET: ABC’s Brian Wheeler: Is it just me or does Giuliani keep yelling “death tax”? Red meat.
2:23 pm ET: Free statements! Like mini-commercial breaks, only boring!
2:20 pm ET: Home heating oil is expensive in Iowa, too, Gov. Romney. And Thompson gets people laughing. Not a bad start.
2:18 pm ET: Ooh, Fred Thompson is taking a chance. He is the candidate of specific ideas on entitlements — give him credit for that. It’s hard to see this as the issue that foists himself back into the mix, but maybe those are the sort of specifics that thoughtful people (including members of the Des Moines Register editorial board) are after.
2:15 pm ET: So far, the talk about budget cuts is all pablum. Yawn. Wonder if the candidates are feeling cautious that afternoon, or if it’s because the subjects don’t give them good opportunities for sharp words?
2:13 pm ET: Ron Paul’s got to like the first two subjects: budget-cutting, and national debt.
2:10 pm ET: Does anyone really need to see Alan Keyes on this stage?
2:08 pm ET: "In fact, the future is bright," Mitt Romney says. He’s the first to play the optimist even as concerns about the economy have rocketed to the top of voters’ concerns. Not a feel-your-pain moment. And Huckabee does see this as a national-security threat in his first crack at the mic.
2:06 pm ET: Good points about the timing of the debate — first off, the candidates mostly don’t have day jobs, or at least day jobs that keep them from participating in a forum like this. I wonder what the ratings will be on this one — but I can guarantee this will be closely watched (and analyzed) in Iowa.
2:05 pm ET: Rudy may have opened himself up to some criticism by not saying that the national debt is a national-security debt. I don’t know the "right" answer to that, but many on that stage do consider the amount of debt held by China, say, to be a major problem for the nation.
2:02 pm ET: Back from the set of Politics Live, and ready to rumble… And welcome, Alan Keyes — makes me miss Gary Bauer and Lamar Alexander and Phil Gramm…
Rick Klein from ABC’s The Note here — I’ll be live-blogging during Wednesday’s Republican debate, starting at 2 pm ET. This is — and we never thought we’d write the words — the last GOP debate before the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3. Tune in starting at 2, and I look forward to your comments…