“Republicans eyeing their party's presidential nomination in 2012 are preparing for the first debate to include former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney,” the AP says. Romney and six of his rivals are scheduled to meet Monday night at St. Anselm's College in Manchester. It will be the first time Romney will share a stage with the contenders who are looking to take away his frontrunner status.”
The Boston Globe: “The thrust of their fiscal proposals won’t necessarily surprise the New Hampshire and national viewers who tune into the CNN forum at 8 p.m.: Cut taxes, cut spending — standard Republican doctrine. But the candidates will probably differ significantly in approach, level of detail they provide, and emphasis.”
“Most of the candidates have seized on the days leading up to [tonight’s] debate as a chance to refine their opening pitch to an electorate that is only beginning to focus on the 2012 race,” the Wall Street Journal adds.
Ahead of the debate, a new USA Today/Gallup national poll has Romney in the clear lead.
“Newt Gingrich's campaign defections are just the latest tremor in a constantly shifting GOP presidential landscape that craves some steadiness as a big, early New Hampshire debate nears,” the AP writes of the week that was. Between the Gingrich defections and Romney’s decision not to participate in the Ames straw poll, not to mention the non-candidate Sarah Palin email dump, “[I]t was a typical week in the GOP's free-wheeling nominating process. The field is anything but set, and there's no clear picture of who will emerge to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012.”
BACHMANN: Michele Bachmann’s not-yet-official campaign will announce the addition of Alice Stewart, who worked on Mike Huckabee’s 2008 campaign, as national press secretary, Fox reports.
CHRISTIE: Another group of Republicans from an influential primary state are launching an effort to draft New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie into the presidential race, CNN reports, noting that about a dozen South Carolina lawmakers will hold a rally on the steps of the state house next Wednesday to let Christie know he has supporters there.
GINGRICH: The Christian Science Monitor asks “Is Newt Gingrich’s campaign the worst ever?” concluding that he has some pretty stiff competition, including Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, and those of Phil Gramm and Gary Hart.
“Speaking Sunday night to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Los Angeles, Gingrich tried to reset his White House bid, roiled by a rocky rollout and crippled in recent days by the mass exodus of top staff and advisers,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. “He reflected that his decades in public life have left him accustomed to the rigors of hard-fought elections. ‘In fact, I have had some recent reminders,’ he quipped to appreciative chuckles from the audience of 600.”
“A commanding performance in the debate could help change the narrative that Gingrich’s campaign is essentially dead after last week when the top echelon of his campaign staff resigned out of frustration with the candidate,” the Daily Caller writes. “A weak performance could solidify the conventional wisdom that his campaign is nearing the end of its short-lived existence.”
HUNTSMAN: Jon Huntsman, who is not participating in tonight’s debate, said that he is close to announcing a decision on running for president, according to Reuters. Huntsman said that all the elements of a campaign – fundraising, organization and boots on the ground – are ready to go, but “We need to check the family 'box,' to sit down with the family one last time," Huntsman said.
Huntsman’s campaign yesterday had to walk back a report that FedEx founder Frederick W. Smith agreed to support Huntsman if he ran for president. According to a FedEx executive, “Fred Smith has not committed any financial or other support to Gov. Huntsman. He is not supporting any particular candidate for the Presidency and does not plan to do so until later in the election process, if at all.” The two men had a “brief” call, the Washington Post writes.
JOHNSON: Supporters of former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign placed full-page newspaper ads in the New Hampshire Union Leader, Concord Monitor and New Hampshire Sunday News protesting Johnson’s exclusion from tonight’s Republican debate, the Union-Leader writes.
PAWLENTY: On Friday, Tim Pawlenty picked up the support of Al Hubbard, former President George W. Bush’s National Economic Council director, the AP reports.
Tim Pawlenty was among Republicans throwing harder rhetorical blows yesterday than they have previously, the San Francisco Chronicle writes. Taking a swipe at Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan, he combined Romney’s plan with that of President Obama’s and called it, “Obamneycare.”
ROMNEY: Politico’s Ben Smith writes that Romney -- with aid from campaign manager Matt Rhoades – is winning the “Drudge primary.” From the article: “A survey of the past 13 months of Drudge headlines found only one debatably negative reference to the 2002 Olympics CEO (‘Bachmann Outraises Romney’) — and a survey of aides to his rivals found a rising level of frustration at what one described as ‘favoritism’ by one of the most important, if also one of the quirkiest, referees.
A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll, released by the Boston Globe, gave Mitt Romney 41 percent over his fellow Republican candidates, Fox News reports. The next closest candidate is Rudy Giuliani, who has not yet said whether or not he will run, who garnered 9 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, Romney has a new Web video hitting President Obama on the economy.
SANTORUM: The New Hampshire Union-Leader’s DiStaso on Santorum’s release of the first campaign ad of the 2012 presidential cycle, which will air in the first three primary states, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina: “It's not surprising that Santorum is the first to air an ad in New Hampshire, a state he has visited 18 times but has yet to score above the low single-digits in polling. The ad is aimed at increasing his name recognition and identifying him as a staunch fiscal conservative.”
Rick Santorum suggested that his 18-point loss in the 2006 Senate race was an anomaly, due mostly to the national attitude towards Republicans, Roll Call writes. “2006 was probably the worst year for Republicans in Pennsylvania history,” Santorum said on Meet the Press.