U.S. Republican presidential candidates are set to hold a televised debate in the central state of Iowa Thursday, ahead of a "straw poll," or test vote, that could help identify the frontrunners for the 2012 party nomination.
Eight candidates will take part in the debate, including former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is seen as the leading candidate. Also participating are U.S. Representatives Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, and former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.
Meanwhile, U.S. media are reporting that Texas Governor Rick Perry will announce on Saturday that he will run for the Republican nomination.
Perry, who could be a formidable candidate, can potentially appeal to social and economic conservatives within the Republican Party. He also has a strong job growth record as Texas governor. Surveys found most Republican primary voters plan to support Romney, with Perry second in line.
Perry will not participate in Thursday's debate.
Performances in the debate could strongly impact Saturday's straw poll results, and possibly set the stage for success in next year's Iowa presidential caucuses.
In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama used his victory in the Iowa caucuses as a springboard to best his rival Hillary Clinton in the battle for the Democratic Party nomination and the presidency.
Perry is the longest-serving governor in Texas history. He took over from Republican George W. Bush after Mr. Bush won the 2000 U.S. presidential election.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.