Voters seek leaders who have new ideas

Contenders for the Republican nomination for president would best serve voters in tonight’s debate if they focused on ideas and their own records, rather than anti-Obama rhetoric. This debate could be the most telling thus far because it may be the first to feature Texas Gov. Rick Perry alongside the other candidates, should severe wildfires in his home state not force him to cancel.

Besides Perry, scheduled to appear are former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Reps. Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain.

Regardless of Gov. Perry’s participation, it is about that time in the campaign — and especially in the debates — for the GOP candidates to present clear ideas why they would be better suited for the job than President Obama. Americans might not want a second term for Obama, but being “not-Obama” will not be enough to win the right to face off against President Obama in 2012.

Jobs, the economy and the debt are the issues top-of-mind for most Americans. Republican candidates will need to outline a plan for moving forward, including specifics on streamlining regulations and creating some certainty in the marketplace that will spur the private sector to resume investing. Part of that discussion must include a plan to significantly pay down the national debt and reform entitlements.

For health care, repealing Obamacare is important but Republican candidates must also discuss how they would address problems with the current system, such as coverage for preexisting conditions.

As to foreign policy, the candidates should demonstrate a coherent, thoughtful and principled philosophy.

While Govs. Perry and Romney have established themselves as frontrunners thus far, the primary contest is, as Bachmann aptly stated, “a marathon, not a sprint.” Americans are looking for a leader with new ideas and clear convictions. Tonight’s debate is not only an opportunity for the GOP presidential hopefuls to distinguish themselves from President Obama, but to give voters a new framework for viewing what troubles America today, and for seeing what America can be tomorrow.