(Reuters) – The knives will come out at back-to-back debates this weekend as Republican presidential hopefuls frantically jockey for position days before New Hampshire’s key primary.
Debates are once again the main show in the 2012 race after candidates spent two weeks on the road campaigning in coffee shops and pizza places through Iowa and now, New Hampshire.
The six contenders will go at it twice within 12 hours, first on Saturday night and then again on Sunday morning. It is their last, best chance to sway large numbers of voters with New Hampshire set to vote on Tuesday.
“The debates are their opportunity to be seen by tens of thousands of voters,” said former state Republican Party chairman Fergus Cullen. “They are critically important.”
More than a dozen debates thus far have led to defining moments in the race to find a Republican challenger to Democratic President Barack Obama.
Rick Perry’s “Oops” moment when he could not list all three government agencies he wanted to eliminate contributed to his collapse in polls. Romney’s offer of a $10,000 bet with Perry made him look like an out-of-touch high flier.
This weekend’s debates may breathe new life into Newt Gingrich, who has fallen apart under the weight of negative ads and attacks in the weeks since he built a lead in the polls based on strong debate performances.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who often complained about not being asked enough questions at debates, will now literally be at center stage and may have to face tough questions about his record in the U.S. Senate and his anti-gay rights stance.
The rest of the pack could turn against Mitt Romney, the front runner by far, whose objective at the twin sessions is to simply hold his own and not make any mistakes. He urged his supporters not to get complacent.
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