>>> and good evening. from the ronald reagan presidential library here in simi valley, california, we're actually speaking to you just beneath the fuselage of air force one inside the giant air force one pavilion here, a beautiful building where in just a short time we'll be underway with the fourth debate of the gop political season, but notably for this season, the first debate, for the new entrant, who is already the new front-runner in the gop race, governor rick perry of the state of texas. i'll be moderating tonight along with john harris of the website politico and here covering it all with the rest of us and leading our political team, our political director and chief white house correspondent chuck todd. so, chuck, some obvious things tonight make it different. rick perry is already at the head of the pack. you could say a funny thing happened on the way to mitt romney's stroll to the nomination.

>> remember, there was at one point where we thought we were going to have a split screen tonight, the president doing his speech before congress to talk about jobs, these guys getting a chance to respond to it. but there's actually a backdrop that really wants to hear about the economy. over 70% don't like the direction that the country is in, 50% believe it's a long-term set back for the president. our pollsters say that that's a consent that the white house should have. they wonder is the president giving up on them as president. and the republican party is seeing not as popular, they have good news for all these guys on stage, the public is hungry for some answers. the question is can they provide them?

>> we're a good distance out from americans going to the polls, the field is fat, there's a lot of podiums here. in some way, they'll have some marginal players.

>> we saw in the last debate by pennsylvania governor tim pawlenty. we thought he was going to be potentially a major candidate. watching those guys tonight, john huntsman, michele bachmann was the shooting star just a couple of months ago, looked like she was climbing, climbing, climbing, she was the first victim. that's the other thing to watch for tonight. we know that michele bachmann's got to go after rick perry. the question is if she goes after him hard, does mitt romney feel, hey, i've got to do this. he's had the luxury of being on the sidelines. perry's got some momentum, does it get so fast that he can't be stopped? it's a double-digit lead he's got all over these polls, and by the way, these early primary states, they're very conservative republican electorates.

>> i know you'll have a good seat tonight, plenty to talk about as we go on into the evening. chuck todd, thanks for being with