Tonight in New Hampshire

The latest in a series of debates for Republican presidential candidates starts tonight at 8 p.m. ET, in New Hampshire, and under the circumstances, this one might actually have some significance to the race.

Eight Republicans candidates will take the stage tonight in New Hampshire for the seventh debate of the GOP nomination fight. But, the dynamics of this debate, which is being sponsored by the Washington Post and Bloomberg News will be different for several reasons.

First, the debate is focused exclusively on the economy, which should allow for a more detailed dive into each of candidates’ thinking on an issue that is at the top of voters’ minds.

Second, businessman Herman Cain has gone from an afterthought (at best) in past debates to a centerpiece of this set-to. How Cain handles himself and how former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry approach him will be a fascinating — and new — storyline.

One thing viewers will notice is who’s at center-stage — literally. Where candidates are positioned is determined by polling, so while Rick Perry and Mitt Romney have been standing next to one another in the last few debates, tonight, Perry will by bumped over one slot, leaving Romney to stand alongside his next closest competitor, Herman Cain.

This will probably interfere with Perry’s ability to reach Romney and throttle him, but I’m still cautiously optimistic that the Texas governor will be better prepared to go after the frontrunner tonight. Yesterday’s hard-hitting video from the Perry campaign certainly set the stage for a confrontation. Jamil Smith argued yesterday that Perry should have learned a lesson from Pawlenty — attacking before a debate, then flubbing the offensive during the debate, is a bad idea — and it’ll be worth watching to see just how aggressive the former frontrunner is.

And what about Cain? He vowed earlier today, “I’m going after Romney…. I don’t need to go after Perry.”

Oh, and Bachmann, Santorum, Paul, Gingrich, and Huntsman will be there, too.

With the Iowa caucuses 12 weeks from today, and the race at a fairly volatile stage, tonight might manage to be slightly less sleep-inducing than the last few.