A lackluster field of seven Republican presidential contenders who have yet to set GOP voters on fire head for their first major debate of the 2012 campaign season Monday.
While former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is considered the de facto leader of the gang of seven polls show voters less than excited about him or any of the other wannabes.
The New Hampshire forum will include Romney, tea party centerfold Michelle Bachmann, former Senator Rick Santorum, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, former pizza executive Herman Cain, perennial loser Ron Paul and the rapidly-fading former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
“This marks the start of a new phase for the campaign as more people pay attention and the candidates begin to engage,” said Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, told Reuters.
The gaggle of candidates will appear on state at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire. The debate begins at 8 p.m. EDT and be aired on CNN.
While Romney leads the Republican gang in most polls, his lead is tenuous at best over a group that party insiders consider an incredibly weak field where no challenger is considered a serious threat to unseat incumbent President Barack Obama, who leads all contenders in recent polls despite high unemployment and a shaky economy.
Obama heads most polls against the Republican hopefuls, despite high unemployment.
So the big question is Romney. Can he shine and continue his front runner status or will he fade under what will likely be an assault from the other six.
Many eyes will be on the bombastic Bachmann, whose outspoken attacks have focused on Obama, party insiders and even GOP leaders — positions that make her popular with the so-called “grassroots” tea party.
Bachmann is currently the only woman in the field but Republicans leaders privately question her ability to mount a national campaign.
Gingrich’s campaign for President was considered a long-shot from the beginning and is now in tatters , after staff desertions and a disastrous series of gaffes that included an apology for criticizing Republican Representative Paul Ryan’s budget plan.
New Hampshire holds the second nominating contest and could play a crucial role in the 2012 Republican nominating fight, and the debate will give candidates a high-profile chance to make a direct appeal to state activists.
Paul — twice a Presidential candidate and twice a loser — generates cult-like passion in his small band of followers but never translates that enthusiasm into votes and usually uses Presidential campaign to raise money for his other fringe causes.