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5 reasons not to ignore the New Hampshire debates
Plenty of sparks will likely fly in back-to-back debates that Politico has dubbed "Mitt Romney's weekend from hell"
 
The New Hampshire debates this weekend will be decisive for Jon Huntsman, who skipped Iowa and has bet his entire candidacy on a strong Granite State showing.
The New Hampshire debates this weekend will be decisive for Jon Huntsman, who skipped Iowa and has bet his entire candidacy on a strong Granite State showing.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Republican presidential candidates will clash Saturday in New Hampshire at their first debate since the closely watched Iowa caucuses. Then, mere hours later, they'll be flung at each other again for a Sunday morning face-off — the last debate before Tuesday's critical Granite State primary. Mitt Romney squeaked out an Iowa victory by a mere eight votes, essentially tying with Rick Santorum. But in New Hampshire, Romney, who served as governor in neighboring Massachusetts, is expected to win handily. Not that a vicious pack of hungry underdogs won't try to take Mitt down. The debates — on ABC Saturday night, and on NBC Sunday morning — just might offer some of the most interesting TV moments of the campaign so far. Here, five things you won't want to miss:

1. Newt and Co. will come out swinging
Erstwhile frontrunner Gingrich says he got "Romney-boated" in Iowa, blaming his fourth-place finish on malicious attack ads by a Romney-aligned super-PAC. The former House speaker has embarked on a bitter anti-Romney "kamikaze mission," vowing to do everything he can to kneecap the "Massachusetts moderate." Expect the debate moderators to "try to stoke ... Gingrich's anger at Mitt Romney," says Fred Barnes at The Weekly Standard. "And they’ll want to get the other Republicans involved in that squabble. The debate could turn ugly." Or worse, says Maggie Haberman at Politico. This is going to be "Mitt Romney's weekend from hell."

2. Jon Huntsman will put it all on the line
Huntsman skipped Iowa's conservative-heavy caucuses, where he stood no chance of doing well, and "concentrated all his efforts" on more moderate New Hampshire, says Huma Khan at ABC News. He "desperately needs a win" there and the debates are his last big chance to distinguish himself and "strip away votes from Romney," a fellow moderate. Huntsman has already started hammering Romney as the "establishment" and "status quo" candidate, says David Jackson at USA Today. It will be interesting to see what his closing argument will be.

3. Rick Santorum will be in the hot seat
The former Pennsylvania senator's surprise Iowa surge discombobulated the political world, says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. So long was he at the back of the pack that the press never saw fit to delve too deeply into his record. But now that Santorum is the hot new conservative anti-Romney, "he'll get many more tough questions about his record and his views than he has seen until now." Really, "he's never experienced a debate like the ones he'll encounter this weekend."

4. Ron Paul could give Romney a run for his money
The Texas libertarian has long been "considered an underdog," says RT.com. But he finished a strong third in Iowa, and "has garnered the endorsement of three key publications" in New Hampshire, where polls suggest he's Romney's closest rival. Can Paul spotlight his "progressive take on politics" enough this weekend to "propel him" him into striking distance in New Hampshire? We'll see.

5. In the end, Mitt may just clinch the nomination
The race in New Hampshire "may be too far gone already for anyone but Romney to win," says Adam Sorensen at TIME. "His lead is commanding, 26 points up on his nearest rival in a recent survey, and his operation well entrenched." The man lives in the state — "seriously, his house is in Wolfeboro." He has pumped tens of thousands of dollars into the state GOP, and has John McCain, who won the state in 2000 and 2008, in his camp. His rivals will try to bring Romney down — but their work is cut out for them.

 

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