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Debate Preview

5:57 PM, Jan 7, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Manchester, N.H.
The first televised presidential debate in over three weeks will take place tonight at St. Anselm College in nearby Goffstown, with another debate tomorrow morning on NBC’s Meet the Press. A lot has changed since that December 15 debate in Sioux City, Iowa. Michele Bachmann will be absent tonight, having dropped out after her disappointing performance in Iowa, and Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich have dropped in the polls since then.

Rick Santorum surged to a near-win in the Iowa caucuses last week, coming in just behind Mitt Romney. Santorum’s poll numbers in New Hampshire have risen (as they have across the country), making him a target of his opponents tonight and tomorrow. Santorum will likely say that conservatives don’t have to settle for electability. As he told a packed barn in Hollis this afternoon:

Do we want someone who is going to go and campaign and say: “Vote for me because I can win. Vote for me, I appeal to voters who we need to win. You know, moderates and the like.” Or, do we need someone who says: “Americans stand for something. Here’s my vision of this country. Here’s where I want to take America in a way that is consistent with the values that I have reflected throughout my career and passionately believe in as core convictions.” 

Gingrich, meanwhile, has been going after the Iowa winner since Romney-affiliated super PACs ran devastating ads aiming at the former House speaker.  Look for Gingrich to continue this in tonight's debate.

Jon Huntsman, who did not compete in the state’s caucuses, is in a “do or die” position for next Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary. Huntsman frequently tells reporters that his only goal is to “beat market expectations” for his performance, and he says those expectations won’t be set until the very last minute.

Perry hasn’t competed in New Hampshire this week. And though he'll be here tonight, he's focused on South Carolina.

Perhaps the only constants in the New Hampshire primary race have been Romney and Ron Paul. Romney continues to lead in polls here, and while that lead has been slowly declining, he hasn’t yet shown signs of losing significant ground. Paul has maintained support here without much proof that he’s been able to expand it.

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