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Republicans prepare for first nomination debate

Craig McMurtrie reported this story on Tuesday, June 14, 2011 08:21:00

TONY EASTLEY: In New Hampshire the first big event of the race for the 2012 Republican nomination
is about to begin with seven of the leading contenders taking the stage together for a televised
debate.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is the early frontrunner but he's a marked man. Lesser
known candidates want to press their claims and attract national coverage, but it's fellow
Republican Mr Romney who stands in their way.

Washington correspondent Craig McMurtrie reports.

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: After all the GOP shadow boxing, the fight is about to break out in the open.

Some like Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty have already been quietly campaigning in the state for
months.

TIM PAWLENTY: I think the country has had enough of soaring rhetoric and fluffy speeches that don't
deliver, I think that people are worried about jobs and the economy and they want a leader who's
seasoned and tested.

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: Of the contenders only Mitt Romney has a substantial national profile. In 2008 he
missed out to Arizona Senator John McCain.

Once again he has a lead in early polling but he's also vulnerable. Conservatives are suspicious of
his moderate record and political scientist and author Darrell West says other Republican
contenders will be targeting him as much as Barack Obama.

DARRELL WEST: Typically these races come down to two candidates so all the other Republicans are
really fighting to become the alternative to Mitt Romney.

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: The GOP field is still taking shape. An earlier attempt at a televised debate drew
largely unknown Republican hopefuls and was largely ignored by the media or lampooned.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE COMEDIAN: The 2012 Republican presidential undeclared candidate's debate...

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE COMEDIAN 2: The debate included Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum and I'm
gonna stop there before I fall asleep!

(Laughter)

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: For former speaker Newt Gingrich, the New Hampshire debate is something of a last
stand. Barely a month after declaring he was running, the veteran politician's campaign is already
on life support.

Darrell West again.

DARRELL WEST: This is really Gingrich's last shot. He's had several missteps along the way and last
week he lost his entire senior campaign staff so I think everybody is watching to see can he pull
things back together?

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: Others like former US ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman and Sarah Palin have
decided to skip the first big debate.

Though she isn't yet a declared candidate, Tea Party favourite Michele Bachmann is likely to use
the absence of the former Alaskan governor to press her credentials as the more substantial
conservative figure.

MICHELE BACHMANN: Well I've been to New Hampshire multiple times and New Hampshire is a very
interesting state.

DARRELL WEST: Palin and Bachmann occupy similar parts of the political real estate. They're both
very strong in favour of the Tea Party, very conservative, very anti-government so if Palin were,
nobody would be paying attention to Michele Bachmann.

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: Darrell West says while it's still early in the process the debate will be
influential.

DARRELL WEST: There will be several million people who tune in for - that is relatively small
portion of the overall audience but there will be a huge amount of media coverage.

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: Barack Obama's record on the sluggish US economy, healthcare and Afghanistan are
expected to be targeted.

The presidential election might still be well over a year away, but for Republicans the real race
for the party nomination begins now.

This is Craig McMurtrie for AM.