By CNN’s Wolf Blitzer
Tampa, Florida (CNN) - I’ve moderated several presidential debates over the years. I did five of them leading up to the 2008 election, including the Democratic debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles.
I’ve always learned important lessons in each debate that have helped me prepare for the next one. I’ve been reviewing those lessons as I gear up for the CNN-Tea Party Republican Debate here in Tampa at 8 p.m. ET Monday.
When I face the eight Republican candidates, I am aware that one of them will emerge as the GOP presidential nominee, unless someone else decides to jump into the race and wins the early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. That’s still possible, but at this relatively late stage it seems unlikely.
I know that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is still flirting with the idea, but the longer she waits the more difficult her mission. By remaining undecided for so long, she may have missed her moment.
Beyond that, I am also aware that one of these Republicans might in fact become the next president of the United States.
President Obama will certainly face a stiff challenge in the general election no matter who the Republican nominee is. No one appreciates that more than the president and his top campaign advisers: They will have a real fight on their hands.
That’s why these debates are so important. I want potential voters out there to have a better appreciation of these candidates – their strengths and weaknesses. I want to make sure we can drill down on where they agree and where they differ. When the candidates dodge the questions, I will follow up and press. That’s what the voters want, and I’m looking forward to this opportunity.
NOTE: The CNN-Tea Party Debate, moderated by CNN lead political anchor Wolf Blitzer, airs live 8-10 p.m. ET Monday, September 12, on CNN.
For full debate coverage, go to CNN.com/TeaPartyDebate