Reporters, producers, sound and video techs along with political pundits flocked to Manchester, New Hampshire, for tonight’s GOP presidential debate in what looked to be considerably larger numbers than were in Greenville, South Carolina for the first debate a little more than a month ago.
The reason for the heightened interest is simple. This time all of the major candidates will be on stage. In early May the debate featured former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, along with Texas Rep. Ron Paul and some lesser-known Republicans. Noticeably absent from the South Carolina forum were former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Both are among the seven GOP White House hopefuls in Manchester tonight.
So too is U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota’s 6th District, who has not formally declared herself a candidate but is widely believe to be in the running. Bachmann says she will make a formal announcement about her plans from her birthplace of Waterloo, Iowa, sometime this month.
Several Republicans who turned out for a Pawlenty campaign event in Derry, New Hampshire Sunday afternoon said they didn’t expect tonight’s debate to be much of a debate, and that it would be fine with them if the seven candidates focused their criticism on President Barack Obama instead of each other this early in the campaign.
It remains to be seen what path the candidates will take, and if one goes after a fellow Republican, whether the others will follow the lead. Some think Romney might become the target of most of the criticism, since most polls show Romney well ahead of the others.
The debate runs from 7 p.m. – 9p.m., and is being broadcast live on CNN.