For the 2012 Republican hopefuls, Wednesday night is the first Fall Classic.
Eight candidates are slated to take the stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., for the POLITICO/NBC News debate — the first face-off as the campaign kicks into high gear.
It’s also the first debate that will include Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the new front-runner who has shaken up the slow-forming presidential contest and shifted the landscape for Mitt Romney, who’d been sitting atop the field for months.
Five things to watch for as the candidates take the stage:
1) Does Perry stumble or survive?
Assuming the Texas wildfires don’t keep Perry at home, he will be the most-scrutinized candidate at the debate. The state’s longest-serving chief executive has had all the momentum heading into tonight’s event, his first televised national vetting.
“All eyes will be on Rick Perry, as he has become ‘Mr.