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Sunday Debate Offers GOP Hopeful Second Chance At Fireworks

Republican presidential hopefuls will have a renewed opportunity to draw contrasts with each other in their second of two debates in a 12-hour span on Sunday morning.

A Saturday night debate in Manchester yielded few defining moments, and did little to add new scrutiny that had been expected of Mitt Romney, the frontrunner in the Granite State's primary on Tuesday.

The rest of the GOP field will have their second -- and last -- chance to draw those contrasts with Romney at the NBC News-Facebook debate on Sunday morning in Concord, N.H. The debate will be broadcast on "Meet the Press" at 9 a.m. ET, and viewers can share their thoughts here in the last few hours before the debate begins.

It all leaves the Sunday morning debate as the final opportunity, with just two days until the New Hampshire primary, for candidates who had been positioning themselves as the prime alternative to Romney to make that case to voters.

Most notably, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had promised to take a new, aggressive tack against Romney and had barnstormed New Hampshire this week voicing that type of rhetoric, largely pulled his punches on the former Massachusetts governor.

That came in defiance of expectations Gingrich's campaign had built going into the debate, having circulated a research memo on Romney's tax record.

Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum -- who battled Romney to a virtual draw in last week's Iowa caucuses -- offered relatively tepid criticisms of Romney about three quarters of the way through the debate, but had otherwise held off heavy criticism of Romney.

"I do think there's a difference between a bold Reagan conservative model and a more establishment model that is a little more cautious about taking the kind of changes we need," Gingrich said in comparing his jobs plan against the former Massachusetts governor's.

"I don't think Governor Romney's plan is particularly bold, or is particularly focused on where the problems are in this country," Santorum said.

Romney leads in the battle to win Tuesday's election in New Hampshire, the first primary of the 2012 cycle, and the second nominating contest after Iowa's caucuses. He's worked to build the state into a kind of firewall for his campaign, and recent polling reflects his frontrunner status here.

Forty-two percent of likely Republican primary voters intend to vote for Romney, according to an NBC News-Marist poll released Friday evening. Twenty-two percent prefer Texas Rep. Ron Paul, followed by Santorum at 13 percent, Gingrich at 9 percent and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at 9 percent.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who's elected to skip the New Hampshire primary to focus on the next primary in South Carolina on Jan. 21, polls at one percent in New Hampshire. (In one of the debate's most newsworthy moments, Perry said he would favor sending troops back into Iraq.)

Candidates continue later this month from South Carolina onto Florida, which hosts its primary on Jan. 31.


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