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Romney Rivals Target Frontrunner Ahead of First US Primary

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, visits his campaign headquarters in Manchester, New Hampshire, January 9, 2012.

Republican presidential hopefuls are making their final bids to win over undecided New Hampshire voters, ahead of the first primary election in the United States on Tuesday.

Five of the contenders spent Monday in the northeastern state of New Hampshire trying to curb the commanding lead held by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. The millionaire businessman fended off his rival's criticism during the weekend's debates and turned his attention toward President Barack Obama.

"This president has caused a deepening recession and is responsible for 25 million Americans being out of work or stopped working or not being able to get jobs," said Romney.

All the candidates have been seeking to highlight their conservative credentials against the more liberal Obama, a Democrat.

The six major candidates for the Republican presidential nomination gathered over the weekend in New Hampshire for debates that focused heavily on the need to create jobs.

Romney's rivals also questioned his conservatism and electability. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called Romney a "timid moderate" and not a true conservative. Social conservative Rick Santorum also targeted Romney, who beat him by only eight points in the Iowa caucuses last week.

"We want someone who's gonna stand up and fight for the conservative principles, not bail out and not run and not run to the left of Ted Kennedy," said Santorum.

He remains a favorite to win in New Hampshire, though, leaving much of the attention focused on who will be the runner-up. Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania senator Santorum are seen as battling for second place.

Two other major contenders for the Republican nomination are Texas Governor Rick Perry and former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. Neither of them is seen as likely to win a significant number of votes in the New Hampshire poll.

Many political analysts think the primary election in the southeastern state of South Carolina next week will tell whether the moderate Romney can rally the support of conservative voters.

New poll numbers released Monday show Romney with a 12-point lead in Florida, the next primary after South Carolina. But the Quinnipiac University poll also shows that more than 50 percent of Republican voters say they might change their minds and choose a candidate perceived as more conservative.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.