Live blog of GOP debate in Iowa

Eight of the leading Republican presidential candidates met tonight in Ames, Iowa, for a two-hour debate sponsored by the Fox News Channel.

“Political Intelligence’’ offered a live blog of the discussion.

It was the first such gathering in two months for President Obama’s would-be opponents, and it came amid a newsy environment: the S&P downgrade in the country’s credit rating; wild swings in the stock market; questions about continued US military involvement in Afghanistan following a weekend helicopter crash that killed 30 troops; and lingering partisan debate in Washington about raising the debt ceiling.

For former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, it was his first chance to stand on stage with his rivals; he announced his candidacy after the last debate in New Hampshire.

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For US Representative Michele Bachmann, it was a chance for her to build on a strong performance in the first primary state and cement a lead in her native Iowa, home of the leadoff Iowa caucuses.

And for former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, this week could be pivotal for the future of his candidacy. He faces the possibility of being overshadowed in the debate and then beaten in the Iowa Straw Poll on Saturday, also in Ames.

Pawlenty had been hoping a caucus win would propel him onto the nomination.

Also participating were former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, US Representative Ron Paul, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former US Senator Rick Santorum, and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain.

The debaters faced the specter of being overshadowed by two Republicans not on the stage: Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, is still weighing a candidacy, while an aide said today that Texas Governor Rick Perry is planning to announce his own presidential campaign on Saturday in South Carolina.

Palin will be in Iowa on tomorrow, visiting the annual state fair. And Perry visits Waterloo, Bachmann’s hometown, on Sunday after stops in South Carolina and New Hampshire.

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