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Hey, GOP Candidates -- Bring Your 'A' Game to the Iowa Debate or Stay Home

Like many Americans across the country, I will be watching Thursday’s Iowa presidential debates with keen interest. 

Watch the GOP debate on Fox News Channel at 9 p.m. ET or watch it streaming live on FoxNews.com from 8:30 p.m. ET.

There is no doubt this debate will make or break the campaigns of one or two candidates. So, if the candidates have been holding anything back, now is the time to bring it. The Iowa Caucuses are only 20 days away, followed shortly by New Hampshire.

As the newest frontrunner, Newt Gingrich is facing criticism for blemishes on his very long political record. His opponents will seek to exploit his past support for an individual health care mandate, bailouts, and climate change. And to be fair, Americans deserve to know how Gingrich has changed, not only on these policy issues, but on past personal and moral choices.

It’s no secret Gingrich is receiving disapproval, especially from evangelical Christians, for his three marriages. But as Christians, we desperately desire forgiveness and grace, and we believe it exists for all who ask for it from God, even our leaders. 

The real angst centers on the question of true repentance, which is essential for change but, alas, only God sees our hearts. And we have to give Gingrich credit for going above and beyond this week to confront his past personal and public woes.

I was impressed when last week Gingrich drafted his own marriage pledge, which committed his loyalty to his wife, conservative values, the Constitution, and the American people, in response to the Family Leaders’ “Marriage Vow.” -- Yes, we want it in writing.

Besides moral character, America’s current economic crisis is, and will continue to be, the greatest factor in the 2012 election.

Mitt Romney has the best professional background in business and has been a steady candidate throughout the race, although Gingrich and Perry cleaned his clock in last week’s debate. But despite his experience, Romney’s big-government views will likely frustrate voters who are tired of the country’s huge unemployment rates and a mounting $15 trillion national debt. Further, it will be hard for the former Massachusetts governor to explain why his state health care reform cost the state $4.3 billion, sacrificed over 18,000 jobs, and did not include protection for the unborn. Yes, we know Romney blames the state courts, but in the end, he signed the law.

Rick Perry did much better in the last debate and, by now, the campaign has acknowledged that he had serious back surgery that many believe severely impacted his performance early in his campaign. His exceptional record as governor of Texas, and his dedication to his evangelical faith, gains him support from Iowa Christian conservatives, but is it enough? Perry’s super PAC, Make Us Great Again, has spent over $2 million on campaign ads in Iowa alone. As a result, his poll numbers may be improving. 

This debate may truly make or break him. If he does well, he may have a chance to resurge; if not, he should probably pack it up and think about future career opportunities.

Michele Bachmann did a great job in the last debate explaining more of her personal background and how it shapes her strong Constitutional principles. I had no idea her father deserted her and left her  Godly, single mother to raise the family. 

It is also essential for Michele to hit a home run this time around, but if it is anything like last week, she is up to the task. The congresswoman used her consistent conservative record to decimate Newt and Romney, and she will be a fierce threat to them again on Thursday.

And why on earth has Rick Santorum’s passionate social and fiscal platforms not gained more support? He is the real deal. A father of seven, including a daughter named Bella who was born with Trisomy 18, a seriously disabling and usually fatal disorder, he’s got an amazing record in the Senate for carrying the pro-life and pro-family torch. It makes no sense why he has had to fight for even a shred of media attention. My advice to Santorum: master the art of knee-capping your opponents while smiling like you just offered them a cookie.

Ron Paul has done a great job of changing the debate over the Federal Reserve’s heavy hand in citizen’s lives, but he isn’t serious when it comes to foreign policy. Does he really not believe that Iran is a threat to national security? And where does he stand in support of Israel if, God forbid, Iran makes an attack?

Is Jon Huntsman in this debate? I honestly believe he made a mistake and meant to sign up for the next Democratic presidential race. Based on his social and fiscal policies, I can’t see him as the next GOP nominee. (Although, I do see him selling me my next used car when this race is over.)

Yes I know, ANOTHER debate. How many does this make? Fifty? Regardless, folks, this is the one to watch. Don the jammies, grab the popcorn, and figure out who should lead the free world.

Penny Nance is CEO of Concerned Women for America.

Penny Young Nance is president and CEO of Concerned Women for America