After two days here, I’m just in awe of Steve Benen: I don’t know how he keeps up that pace. I was going to do a debate preview post and a links post, but it’s getting late, so I’m just going to combine them. Thanks to Steve and to the folks at Washington Monthly for the opportunity, and thanks to the commenters for being gentle with me, even when we disagreed (maybe I’ll have a chance to come back sometime and take a shot at convincing y’all on the electoral college).

On the debate tonight: I’ll be tweeting it, but the important thing to know about these December debates is that they’re less important than the ones over the summer and fall. Why? Because there’s more going on now. There are real campaigns out there flooding the airwaves with ads, and organizing precincts to get people to the caucuses. For most of the year what was happening around the nation, including debate reactions, was affecting Iowa; now we’re about to have what happens in Iowa affect New Hampshire, and then the rest of the process.

Keeping that in mind, the candidate to watch tonight in my view is Rick Perry. He’s been moving up very slowly in Iowa polling, and I’ve argued for a while that only he and Mitt Romney meet the normal requirements of having conventional credentials and holding mainstream (for the party) policy positions. It’s not entirely clear why he tanked in the fall, but horrible debate performances certainly didn’t help. He’s been better, but not actually good, lately; to the extent that it’s a reputation for awful debating that’s hurt him, presumably that’s something that he can dissipate with a strong outing.

It’s certainly possible that one of the others could move up or down as a result of a major gaffe or something, but a lot less likely (or less likely to change who eventually gets nominated). So I’d recommend focusing on Perry.

Meanwhile, I don’t have a Benen-style Mini-Report for you, but I can pass along some good stuff to read:

1. Tom Matzzie is good on the formal end of the Iraq War.

2. How going negative against Newt is hurting him in Iowa from Mark Blumenthal; more on Newt deflating from Nate Silver.

3. Health care news: No ACA waiver for Florida. Sarah Kliff explains.

4. And the other big health care story of the day was the Wyden/Ryan plan. Sam Stein on the politics; Ezra Klein notes that it’s not a compromise; and a good explanation of it all from Jonathan Cohn.

5. The Wisconsin recall election of Scott Walker is going to happen, it looks like. Eric Kleefeld is on it.

6. Kevin Drum is right and Andrew Sullivan is wrong about Ron Paul. His chances of winning, that is. Also, what Jonathan Chait says.

7. Greg Sargent has been all over the polling on upper income taxes and Wall Street.

8. Shani O. Hilton is right about the atypical demography of Iowa and New Hamsphire — but don’t forget that national parties matter, too. Overlooked: the Democratic push to improve diversity by moving Nevada and South Carolina to the front of the process still doesn’t do much for cities. It’s a bad bias, because cities are also hurt by the Senate and by other rules of the political system (and while they used to be helped by the electoral college, that’s much less the case these days).

9. Matt Glassman goes deep, deep, deep into the weeds on House rules; Sasha Issenberg has good detail about the inner workings of campaign and public pollsters; “nowcasting” the 2012 election from Charles Tien and Michael Lewis-Beck.

10. And Alex Pareene is back with a new edition of his always excellent pundit Hack List.

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.