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What to look for in the New Hampshire debate tonight

Alright ladies and gentlemen, tonight is the first primary debate of 2012.  On the left we have Mitt Romney who has to win big in New Hampshire to remain the inevitable candidate.  On the right we have Jon Huntsman who is better qualified than Romney in every way to win New Hampshire.  We have Newt Gingrich who can’t wait to take his revenge on Romney for being “Romney-boated” in Iowa and we have an emboldened Rick Santorum and a desperate Rick Perry.  It should make great political theater.

There is no doubt Mitt Romney is going to win New Hampshire, but that doesn’t mean he is going to win tonight’s debate.  If a voter is conservative, Christian, consistent or convicted — Romney isn’t the guy.  He is set to win the state by 41%, but there is major room for Huntsman or Santorum to cut into this lead.

Governor Jon Huntsman and Senator Rick Santorum have the best chance of coming in second or third after Ron Paul and riding that influence into South Carolina.

Jon Huntsman.

Let’s face it, Jon Huntsman seems better by the day, I would love to see the guy taking away lots of Romney support and coming in second place in New Hampshire.  Unfortunately, the RCP average has him stagnated at 9%.  He will be a force to be reckoned with in 2016 as it is close to impossible to create momentum for himself this late in the game.

But a comeback, getting him 15-20% of the New Hampshire vote would make headlines and potentially slingshot him into South Carolina.  If he could do better there, this guy could even win Florida.  A New Hampshire debate should be a smarter debate and I think Huntsman will deliver.  I expect to hear some less hawkish rhetoric on Iran, withdrawal in Afghanistan, intelligent talk on trade wars with China and more of Huntsman’s plan to break down the “too big to fail” corporations.  It would also be nice if he would discuss his pro-life views as I have never heard him articulate his stance.  This guy’s record is consistently pro-life, pro-gun and pro-growth, as Governor, he helped pass badly needed healthcare reform without a mandate.  If New Hampshire voters want to live up to their independent reputation, they will give Huntsman life after this week’s primary.  If Gingrich could injure Romney, Huntsman might be able to turn his Boston Globe endorsement into some momentum.

Rick Santorum. 

Rick Santorum is the other guy to watch.  He has gone full steam ahead in New Hampshire for better or worse.  Santorum is currently in third place in New Hampshire with 13% support.  Ron Paul is in second with 20%.  Santorum is campaigning hard up there.  A strong debate focused on his economic message, may give him the boost that he needs.  If Santorum could come in second place to Romney he could solidify himself as the Romney alternative.

How does Santorum break through the noise to perform decently in New Hampshire?  I don’t know, but Santorum is going to have to show us something.  If he can do that and use his momentum to achieve second place in New Hampshire, he just may end Gingrich and Perry’s campaigns just in time to unite the conservative vote.

 

These are the two guys to watch for real change.  Other than that, sit back and enjoy the Romney/Gingrich feud.  9pm ABC.

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