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Rivals try to trip up Romney in weekend debates

 Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich winks at a questioner during a campaign stop in Newport, N.H. Friday, Jan. 6, 2...
 Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks with a worker at Sturm, Ruger & Co., the maker of Ruger firearms, in New...
 As sign for Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is seen in front of a home in Barnstead, N.H. , Friday, Jan. 6, 2012 .New Hampsh...
 Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, campaigns at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H., Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012. (AP ...
 Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., greets people outside the Homestead Grocery and Deli Saturday, Jan. ...
 Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum takes questions while campaigning outside the Homestead Grocery and Deli, Sa...
 Free copies of the Constitution, provided by John Grieco, Jr., of Fremont, N.H., are seen on a table for supporters before Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., son...
 Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum waits to begin a TV interview near the Homestead Grocery and Deli, Saturday,...
 Republican presidential candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, takes questions from reporters following a campaign stop at the Horse Meadow Senior...

APTOPIX Gingrich 2012

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich winks at a questioner during a campaign stop in Newport, N.H. Friday, Jan. 6, 2...

Gingrich 2012

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks with a worker at Sturm, Ruger & Co., the maker of Ruger firearms, in New...

APTOPIX Perry 2012

As sign for Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is seen in front of a home in Barnstead, N.H. , Friday, Jan. 6, 2012 .New Hampsh...

APTOPIX Romney 2012

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, campaigns at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H., Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012. (AP ...

APTOPIX Santorum 2012

Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., greets people outside the Homestead Grocery and Deli Saturday, Jan. ...

Santorum 2012

Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum takes questions while campaigning outside the Homestead Grocery and Deli, Sa...

Paul 2012

Free copies of the Constitution, provided by John Grieco, Jr., of Fremont, N.H., are seen on a table for supporters before Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., son...

Santorum 2012

Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum waits to begin a TV interview near the Homestead Grocery and Deli, Saturday,...

APTOPIX Huntsman 2012

Republican presidential candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, takes questions from reporters following a campaign stop at the Horse Meadow Senior...

Republican presidential rivals hoped to seize on back-to-back debates this weekend to trip up front-runner Mitt Romney and gain momentum heading into Tuesday's New Hampshire primary and upcoming contests later this month in the South.
Romney, who beat former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum by an eight-vote margin in the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday, had the most to lose in the debates Saturday night and Sunday morning as the other Republicans in the race try to prevent him from running away with the nomination to challenge President Barack Obama.
Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry were competing to emerge as the conservative alternative to Romney. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who served as Obama's ambassador to China, and libertarian-leaning Texas Rep. Ron Paul were also taking part in the debates.
The Saturday night debate at Saint Anselm College was the first in more than three weeks, and the first since Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann dropped out of the race after a disappointing sixth place finish in Iowa. The candidates faced a quick turnaround for the second debate, set for Sunday morning in Concord.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has largely escaped setbacks in the previous 13 debates, but he has faced intensifying criticism from the other candidates in recent days.
Gingrich, who had promised to run a positive campaign, was the leading agitator and hours before the debate, the former speaker of the House of Representatives speaker showed no signs of relenting.
"I do think there's an enormous gap between somebody who is a bold Reagan conservative and somebody who is a timid Massachusetts moderate," Gingrich told voters in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, where Romney has a summer home.
In early December, Gingrich was riding high in national and state polls of Republican voters. But his support plummeted in Iowa after Romney backers unleashed a wave of negative TV ads that left Gingrich embittered.
Recent polling gave Romney strong leads in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary of the campaign season, and South Carolina, which hosts the first nominating contest in the South on Jan. 21, followed by Florida on Jan. 31. .
The candidates have campaigned aggressively in New Hampshire, trying to make their case with voters who are notoriously late deciders.
Gingrich is looking to keep his candidacy afloat while Santorum hopes to capitalize on his surprising neck-and-neck performance against Romney in the Iowa caucuses. Perry considered quitting the race after his fifth-place finish in Iowa, but is staying in the race in hopes of a strong rebound in South Carolina. Huntsman skipped Iowa to pin all his hopes on a strong showing in New Hampshire.
Debates can have unforeseen impact. Just days before the New Hampshire primary in 2008, Obama used that venue to call Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton "likable enough" _ a dismissive comment that didn't sit well with her supporters, particularly women. Obama, who had a significant lead in polls, lost the New Hampshire primary.


Updated : 2021-04-21 23:15 GMT+08:00