Tonight at 8pm ET, seven Republican Presidential aspirants will debate at St. Anselm’s College in Manchester, New Hampshire. CNN will carry the debate live. The seven participants include everyone who is currently announced as a candidate for President, as well as a couple others who have not formally announced. Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Ron Paul will debate tonight.

It’s quite a rogue’s gallery. And it’s pretty much your 2012 Republican Presidential field. Jon Huntsman, who plans to announce in the next couple weeks, is missing tonight, and there could be any number of late entries (Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, Rick Perry, Chris Christie). But most likely, this is it. Barring something striking, one of these seven will face Barack Obama in the Presidential election in November.

And at the moment, the clear front-runner is Romney, who leads in all major polls both in New Hampshire and nationally. He also leads among older Republicans, the most reliable voters in any primary. So he is really the person to beat at this stage. Therefore, you can expect at least some attacks on him from the other debaters tonight. It’s a bit early for anyone to go negative, but Pawlenty previewed a line of attack by coining the phrase Obamneycare to describe both the President’s health care plan and the one signed by Romney in Massachusetts. Pawlenty said he would not use the term tonight, but I tend to doubt that Romney will get through the debate without a scratch.

The Republican debate is really going to reflect the race to the bottom in the party, with competition among how many social safety net programs to destroy and how many taxes to lower. Pawlenty set the bar pretty low with his fantasyland economic plan, and Michele Bachmann (who’s intelligent because, you know, she’s she’s on the Intelligence Committee) actually plunged deeper in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, where she called for a 9% corporate tax rate, among other things. Maybe Herman Cain, who seems to have a knack for small numbers, will drop that on down to 3%.

As for Gingrich, he must contend with the fact that he savaged the sainted Paul Ryan’s plan to end Medicare, as well as the fact that he has nobody on staff to help pick out a tie for the debate, let alone anything else, after his campaign imploded last week.

For Santorum, it’s a chance to position himself as the champion of family values and social issues, although the fact that he admitted that he has gay friends has got to hurt him in that regard.

And Ron Paul will talk about Federal Reserve policies and the need to end the failed war on drugs as well as our imperial foreign policy throughout the world, and everyone will snicker and move along.

Alex Pareene has a nice preview at Salon. But you can watch the genuine article in just a few minutes and see for yourself.