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Republican Presidential Contenders Hold Last New Hampshire Debates

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum during a Republican presidential candidate debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, January 7, 2012.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum during a Republican presidential candidate debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, January 7, 2012.

In U.S. politics, the Republican presidential contenders who would like to run against President Barack Obama in the November election are intensifying their campaign efforts in the northeastern state of New Hampshire, before a Tuesday primary vote. 

In the final days leading up to the primary vote on Tuesday, the six Republican candidates engaged in two televised debates.

In Sunday’s debate sponsored by NBC News and Facebook, former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich questioned whether frontrunner and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is a true conservative.

“And I think that a bold, Reagan conservative with a very strong economic plan is a lot more likely to succeed in that campaign than a relatively timid Massachusetts moderate,” he said.

But so far little has happened in New Hampshire to alter the expectation that Romney will be in a strong position on Tuesday, leaving the rest of the Republican field to battle for second and third place in the northeastern state.

Romney continued to focus his rhetorical fire on President Obama during Saturday’s debate on ABC.

“I believe in an America that is based upon opportunity and freedom, not President Obama’s social welfare state,” said Romney.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum appear to be battling for second place in New Hampshire, according to the latest polls. Santorum finished a strong second to Romney in the first Republican test, last week’s Iowa caucuses.

VOA's Carolyn Presutti interviews Congressman Ron Paul

In the latest debate, the Republican contenders went back and forth over which candidates were true conservatives, an area seen as Romney’s greatest weakness.

But the ABC News debate on Saturday also delved into a number of foreign policy issues.

Texas Governor Rick Perry said he would send U.S. troops back into Iraq to counter Iranian influence.  Perry did poorly in Iowa and looks to rebound in the next contest after New Hampshire, the South Carolina primary on January 21st.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman has staked his entire campaign on a strong showing in New Hampshire.  Huntsman favors an immediate pullout of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

“I think civil war is around the corner in Afghanistan and I do not want to be the president who invests another penny in a civil war,” he said.

That brought a strong response from Rick Santorum.

“He has been making mistakes at every turn, in Iran, in Egypt, I would argue Libya, Syria, Israel," said Santorum. "All of these places he had made mistakes on the ground.”

Beyond the debates, the candidates continue to campaign, holding rallies and speeches in hopes of winning over undecided Republicans and independents, who are also allowed to vote in New Hampshire’s Republican primary.

Jerry Lombardo, from Derry, New Hampshire, attended a Mitt Romney rally, but is still unsure who he will vote for on Tuesday.

“I came today basically to see him in person," said Lombardo. "You see him on TV, but it is not quite the same thing. I want to see him in the flesh and listen to him one on one, kind of, and I think it will help me decide.”

A Romney victory in New Hampshire, following his opening win in Iowa, would put the former Massachusetts governor in a strong position to win the Republican nomination. The next Republican test comes in the South Carolina primary on January 21.

GOP Candidates Poll Tracker

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