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Candidates Court New Voters Ahead of Saturday’s Debate

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With the Republican field narrowing, candidates have upped their attacks on one another and on President Obama, courting groups ranging from evangelical Christians to the Tea Party from New Hampshire to South Carolina.

It is a critical time for candidates as they scurry to establish themselves as the best candidate to beat Obama, the trait most Iowa voters said they want to see in the Republican candidate.  The six candidates will go on the national stage for the first time after the Iowa caucus at Saturday’s debate, sponsored by ABC News, Yahoo and WMUR.

Unlike Iowa, where Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum were tied in a three-way race in the last few days, Romney’s win in New Hampshire appears to be clear cut.

He has more than double the support of his closest rival in the state that will host the nation’s first primary.  In a new poll released on Thursday by the Union Leader, 47 percent of New Hampshire GOP primary voters said they would vote for Romney, compared to 17 percent for Paul and 13 percent for Huntsman.

But his frontunner status places Romney even more in the crosshairs.  Following a scarring defeat in Iowa as a result of Romney’s scathing negative campaign against him, Newt Gingrich is taking his gloves off and directly engaging with the former Massachusetts governor.

Gone is the pleasant Gingrich caucus goers saw in Iowa.  The former House speaker is pulling out the guns, as evident in a new 30-second TV ad his campaign rolled out Thursday in South Carolina, painting Romney as a “timid” candidate who “won’t create jobs, and timid certainly won’t defeat Barack Obama.”

Jon Huntsman, who desperately needs a win in New Hampshire, where he has concentrated all his efforts, is also doing everything he can to strip away votes from Romney.

Then there’s Rick Santorum.  Romney may have won eight more votes than the former congressman in the Iowa caucuses, but Santorum is successfully tapping into the grassroots energy and enthusiasm that has turned him into a serious contender after months of dismissal.

Santorum will face his first real vetting this Saturday when he takes on the national stage for the first time as a contender who has a real chance at defeating Romney.  He may lack the money advantage when compared to his rivals, but that could change quickly.  Santorum raised $1 million in the last 24 hours alone, almost exclusively from small-dollar contributions, and the surge in Iowa gave him a much-needed boost to his national image that he will need to do well in other states.

Ron Paul is stepping up his game as well.  As ABC News’ Jonathan Karl points out, other than Mitt Romney, no other candidate has more resources now to wage a drawn-out campaign.  Paul’s campaign raised a whopping $13 million in the fourth quarter, behind only Romney’s fundraising of more than $20 million.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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