CNN WMUR New Hampshire GOP Debate tonight – What to watch for

Tonight’s Republican presidential debate in Manchester, N.H., will serve as the primary overture for one leading contender — and it could be a closing scene for another.

Local station WMUR, CNN and the New Hampshire Union Leader are sponsoring the debate at 8 p.m. on the East Coast; it will feature Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum.

For the first time in this election cycle, Romney will join his colleagues on the debate stage, finally entering the primary fray. And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will be facing the public just days after 16 of his advisers resigned en masse.

To date, the former Massachusetts governor has been attacked by most of his Republican opponents for signing landmark health care reform in the Bay State, which conservatives have criticized for its individual mandate and for paving the way to national health care reform.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, for example, recently coined the term “Obamneycare” to tie his GOP opponent to President Obama’s controversial reforms, which remain unpopular with Republicans. He told reporters today, however, that he likely wouldn’t use the term tonight.

Despite Pawlenty’s apparent willingness to pull that punch, Romney should expect some of the other contenders to dump on him for health care reform. The front-runner has addressed the topic several times, but doing so tonight will give the clearest indication yet of how prepared he is to answer his critics.

Today, Romney released a video titled “Bump in the Road,” which takes Obama to task over the sluggish economy. Democratic Party officials have responded in kind by trotting out the number 47. This is to remind voters that despite Romney’s constant focus on the economy and jobs, Massachusetts was 47th out of 50 states in the nation in job growth under his stewardship.

Democratic operatives have released some information critical of Pawlenty as well, but it’s clear today that all parties — the other GOP campaigns along with the Democrats — have placed a target on Romney.

via RealClearPolitics – N.H. Debate to Put GOP Field at Center Stage.

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