I'll be live-blogging here once the debate starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. Keep reloading for more updates.
For more live-blogging, I recommend checking TalkingPointsMemo, National Review, and Althouse (my mom).
9:03 - The moderator tells Newt Gingrich: "You're now physically at the center of the stage, which means you're at the top of the polls." That's the first time I've heard them admit that this is how they choose where to place the candidates.
9:04 - Gingrich is asked about electability. He says he'll win against President Obama in "seven three-hour debates." Huh?
9:06 - Ron Paul gets the second question! That must be a first. He's asked if he'll support whoever ends up being the Republican nominee. "Probably anybody up here could beat Obama." I didn't hear him answer the question.
9:07 - Rick Santorum is asked why he's doing so badly when he's spent more time in Iowa than any of the other candidates. "I'm counting on the people of Iowa to catch fire for me." He says he presents a "clear contrast" with the others because he's been a consistent conservative. If that's so clear, yet he's going nowhere, doesn't that imply that hardcore conservatism isn't the voters' top priority?
9:09 - Mitt Romney is asked why he would be better than Gingrich at "making the case" for Republican policies when debating President Obama. This is essentially inviting Romney to attack Gingrich. Romney doesn't take the bait; he strings together a bunch of his talking points that we've heard in past debates, which are all about his positive qualities, not shortcomings with Gingrich.
9:11 - Michele Bachmann: "I spent 50 years as a real person." Has she been a robot for the past 5 years?
9:12 - Moderator to Rick Perry: "You've admitted yourself that you're not a great debater. . . . You'll be going up against Barack Obama, an accomplished debater." Perry: "I'm kinda gettin' so I like these debates. I'm looking forward to debating President Obama, and I'll get there early, and we will get it on." He's much more lively than he's been in some of the past debates. [UPDATE: Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo says:]
Apparently Gov. Perry saved all the energy from the first 57 debates and packed it all into that one answer.9:14 - Jon Huntsman: "I am the consistent conservative in this race. . . . We are getting screwed as Americans."
As always, I'm writing these quotes down as I hear them (without the use of a transcript or a rewind button), so they might not be verbatim.
9:18 - Romney seems to be self-consciously shifting to the general election, talking about how he repeatedly "found common ground" with the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature in Massachusetts. Gingrich takes a similar tack, invoking "bipartisanship" and talking about the times he "worked things out with Bill Clinton."
9:22 - The moderator says that after the commercial break, they'll talk about something that hasn't been talked about in any of the past debates.
9:27 - Romney is asked about the fact that his business laid a lot of people off. Romney handles this deftly. He says we're getting a preview of the general election, when Obama will ask him the same thing. "I'll tell him, 'How did you handle General Motors when you were running it? You closed down factories. You closed down dealerships.' He'll say: 'We had to do that to save the business.' 'Same with us, Mr. President.'"
9:31 - Paul savagely goes after Gingrich for his lobbying, saying he's been involved in "government-sponsored enterprises" that are dangerously close to "fascism." Gingrich defends government-sponsored enterprises since they do a lot of wonderful things. Bachmann says she's surprised Gingrich is still defending Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Gingrich says Bachmann made "wild allegations" by saying he lobbied for Fannie and Freddie. Bachmann: "You don't need to be within the technical definition of 'lobbyist' to be peddling influence to Washington." [UPDATE: The New Republic's Noam Scheiber thinks Gingrich's defense was so weak it shows he doesn't really want to win:]
[A]nyone who actually wanted to be president and had made $1.6 million lobbying for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would have come up with a better defense of it by this point than Gingrich's two-pronged "government-sponsored entities do lots of good things" and "I was a national figure doing just fine so I couldn't have been a lobbyist" line of attack. Clearly it's more important to Gingrich to insist on his righteousness than to come up with a defense that might sound semi-plausible, even if it had the collateral impact of conceding he did something slightly dodgy. I'm fairly certain that last night's excruciating (for Gingrich supporters) Fannie/Freddie exchange officially doomed him as a candidate. Well, that's not entirely true. I think his candidacy was already doomed, but this made the doomed-ness really hard to deny.9:39 - Paul says he "never voted for an earmark," but he will accept the earmarks he gets. "When you fill out your taxes, you take the deductions." He says he would be a completely different president from everyone else: he wouldn't try to be powerful.
9:43 - Perry says we should have a "part-time" Congress so that members of Congress would work at other jobs and "live within the laws they pass." Moderator: "They worked 151 days last year. How much more would constitute part time?" Perry says 140 days every other year!
9:47 - Romney is asked what sector of the economy will be the most dominant in the next 10 years. Romney says he has no idea; the market will decide that. He criticizes Obama for trying to pick and choose winners in the economy, especially the energy sector. [CLARIFICATION: I shouldn't have said that Romney said he has no idea. He said there's no need for government officials to figure out the answer to that question, but that if he has to make a prediction, he expects the dominant sectors to be manufacturing, high tech, and energy.]
9:49 - Gingrich calls for an "uprising" to "rebalance the judiciary." He criticizes "law schools" for making courts feel "empowered" to write the law.
9:51 - The topic that hasn't been talked about in any past debate is the judiciary. This is a dull topic; it just prompts everyone to say judges should be restrained and must follow the Constitution.
9:53 - Paul correctly says it would be an "affront to the separation of powers" to follow Gingrich's preposterous proposal to abolish courts that issue rulings that offend him.
9:55 - Romney points out that we already have a check on the courts: if they incorrectly interpret a statute, Congress can amend the statute to clarify what it's supposed to mean. That's an important point, but it's also a way to avoid talking about Gingrich's proposal to stamp out supposedly bad judicial rulings on constitutional interpretation. Romney has a clear strategy tonight: never attack.
9:56 - All the candidates are asked to name their favorite Supreme Court Justices. Santorum: Thomas. Perry: Alito, Roberts, and Thomas. Romney: Roberts, Thomas, Alito, and Scalia. Gingrich: same as Romney. Paul won't answer, because "they're all good and they're all bad." Bachmann: Scalia. Huntsman: Roberts and Alito.
10:04 - The moderator asks Paul about the fact that he would be running "to the left of President Obama" on Iran. Paul says our current policy encourages countries to acquire nuclear weapons. "What did we do with Libya? We talked them out of having nuclear weapons. And then we killed 'em!" He praises Obama for apparently backing off from sanctions on Iran.
10:07 - Santorum on Iran: "They've been at war with us since 1979." He calls Iran a "radical theocracy" and says they're founded on "martyrdom." "Their objective is to create a calamity. . . . We need to make sure that they do not have a nuclear weapon."
10:11 - Bachmann: "I have never heard a more dangerous answer for American security than the one we just heard from Ron Paul."
10:18 - Hunstman goes way overtime in a rambling answer on foreign policy. Moderator: "OK, 2 dings in that one."
10:21 - Gingrich: "I'm very concerned about not appearing to be zany."
10:33 - Perry: "If I'm President, and I find out that the Justice Department has a program like 'The Fast and the Furious,' and my Attorney General says he didn't know about it, I will have him resign immediately." Santorum agrees.
10:38 - Gingrich sticks with his past comments that he'd give some kind of amnesty to an illegal immigrant who's been here for 25 years and has ties to the community, but puts more emphasis on cracking down on "sanctuary cities" and dropping federal lawsuits against states for excessive immigration enforcement.
10:43 - Romney is asked why he flip-flopped on gay rights, and Romney denies the charge. He says he's always been against discrimination based on sexual orientation . . . and opposed to same-sex marriage.
10:47 - Bachmann attacks Gingrich for missing an "opportunity to defund Planned Parenthood."
10:50 - Gingrich defends himself for supporting Republicans who have supposedly favored partial-birth abortion: "I don't see how you're going to run the country if you're going to go around figuring out who to purge." Too bad he doesn't understand that point when it comes to the courts.
10:52 - Romney: "President Obama has unveiled himself as someone who's not the right person to lead the country." Interesting word choice.