Sunlight Live to cover the Republican showdown in Iowa


In the fight to determine who will face President Obama in the 2012 election, Republican candidates will square off again this Thursday in Ames, Iowa, days before the straw poll. It will be the first debate since the latest campaign finance reports have been filed, showing Mitt Romney with a substantial financial lead over his competitors.

Although FOX News, the cable channel sponsoring and airing the debate, has not officially announced which candidates will take the stage on Thursday, we expect to see:

  • Michele Bachmann, U.S. representative from Minnesota
  • Herman Cain, former executive of Godfather's Pizza and former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City
  • Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania
  • Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House and representative from Georgia
  • Thaddeus McCotter, U.S. representative from Michigan
  • Jon Huntsman, Jr., former governor of Utah
  • Ron Paul, U.S. representative from Texas
  • Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota
  • Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts

When it comes to campaign contributions, Romney has raised more than $18.2 million as of July 15 and spent about $5.5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Restore Our Future, a Super PAC started by Romney backers has raised another $12.3 million so far, according to Federal Election Commission reports. The Super PAC made news recently when an anonymous Romney supporter founded a company named W Spann LLC, made a $1 million donation to the Super PAC through that company, and then dissolved the company. Politico and other sources reported that donor was Edward Conard, a former executive at Bain Capital, an asset management firm co-founded by Romney. Super PACs, or independent-expenditure-only committees, can accept contributions of unlimited amounts from individuals, corporations and labor unions as long as the Super PAC does not make contributions to candidates or coordinate with the official campaign.

Then there are the Republican candidates who have spent more than they've raised on their campaigns. As of July 15, Pawlenty's campaign was more than $1,000 in debt, Bachmann's campaign had a deficit of more than $364,000, and Gingrich's campaign was more than $1 million in the red.

Traditionally, candidates who do well during the Iowa debate and the subsequent straw poll and caucus on Aug.13, usually have a better shot at gaining their party's presidential nomination. But the 2008 elections raised questions about this notion. In 2008, Romney won the Ames straw poll, Mike Huckabee won the caucus, but it was John McCain who won the Republican nomination.

Topics of interest to Iowa voters include corn subsidies, ethanol, and issues of concern to Christian conservatives, like gay marriage and abortion, so expect to see candidates touch on those subjects during Thursday's debate.

States that hold earlier primary elections or caucuses sometimes receive more federal money following a competitive election, according to a recent study out of North Carolina State University. After wondering whether “presidential candidates pledge more federal spending per capita to these states because doing well in their contests is critical to capturing the nomination,” researchers found that to indeed be the case.

Thursday's debate is being hosted by FOX News and the Washington Examiner. FOX News Anchor Bret Baier, of the program Special Report with Bret Baier, will moderate the debate.

The Sunlight Foundation will stream the debate and cover it live at to add context, campaign finance and lobbying information, and real-time fact checking. Meet us online at 9 p.m. ET on Aug. 11 to view the debate and live blogging on our multimedia platform, Sunlight Live.