(Reuters) - Seven hopefuls for the Republican nomination at the 2012 presidential election will hold a televised debate in New Hampshire on Monday night.
Here is a look at the participants in the debate, and two senior Republicans who will be absent, Sarah Palin and Jon Huntsman.
Romney, who lost the nomination to John McCain in 2008, now leads many polls of potential Republican candidates, along with Sarah Palin. He declared his 2012 candidacy in June after spending months erecting a network of supporters and wealthy donors, particularly in early voting states including New Hampshire.
His fundraising prowess became apparent in mid-May when he raised $10.25 million in Las Vegas in a single day.
Romney has pushed his business experience as a way to attack Obama’s stewardship of the U.S. economy.
Romney has a personal fortune estimated in 2008 at $190 million to $250 million. But critics say he caused job losses as a corporate raider.
As a former moderate, his more recently adopted conservative positions are regarded with suspicion by some Republicans who accuse him of flip-flopping.
The Achilles’ heel of his candidacy could be the healthcare plan he helped develop for Massachusetts, which bears striking parallels with the Obama healthcare overhaul that conservatives want repealed.
Romney has also broken with Republican orthodoxy by saying that global warming is real and that greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced, a remark that prompted some conservative pundits to question his electability.
“I believe the world is getting warmer and I believe that humans have contributed to that,” he told a New Hampshire audience.
A Mormon, Romney might also struggle to win support from evangelical Christians.
Palin has not said whether she will run and will not be in the New Hampshire CNN debate, although speculation that she might be seeking the nomination has recently increased.
The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee has major star power in the party. The former governor of Alaska has also made herself a millionaire with two books, a TV show “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” and many speaking engagements.
A leading voice in the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement, she enhanced her influence by campaigning for its candidates across the country in last year’s congressional elections.
Speculation about a possible White House run in 2012 mushroomed in late May when Palin rode through Washington on the back of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and then set off for a family tour of the East Coast in a campaign-style bus emblazoned with her name and constitutional themes. Some dismissed the tour as a publicity stunt.
Republican heavyweights are leery of Palin because she is a polarizing figure and her support seems limited to conservatives. She sparked controversy when she referred to herself as a victim of “blood libel” after some suggested that her rhetoric could have contributed to an Arizona shooting rampage in January in which a U.S. congresswoman was wounded.
She remains vulnerable to embarrassing public gaffes. Her latest was in Boston, where she said the legendary American patriot Paul Revere “warned the British” with bells and warning shots not to mess with the colonists. In fact, Revere’s famous ride was to warn colonial militias that the British were coming.
Palin can afford to enter the race relatively late because of her powerful name recognition.
The former Minnesota governor joined the national stage in 2008 when his name showed up on John McCain’s short list to be the Republican vice presidential candidate.
“T-Paw” — as he is known by his supporters — was a popular two-term governor in a swing state, giving him credibility as a Republican who can attract vital support from independent voters.
He won plaudits for eliminating a $4.3 billion state budget deficit without raising taxes, although Democrats say he used short-term patches to paper over budget holes. He has been a staunch voice against abortion and stem-cell research.
As a presidential candidate, Pawlenty has tried to raise his national profile with Republican voters by pledging to tell Americans the “hard truth” about the country’s fiscal woes and pushing an economic plan that offers generous tax cuts for individuals and businesses as a centerpiece.
But his ambitious target of achieving 5 percent annual economic growth raised eyebrows among economists, who say such a scale of expansion is rarely seen in developed economies.
A day later, Pawlenty appeared to back away from the target, which he described as “aspirational.”
Critics also say he lacks charisma, a concern that remained undiminished after a low-key performance in a TV debate in South Carolina against even lesser known Republican rivals.
He has had to account for his former support for a cap-and-trade anti-pollution plan, which is anathema to conservative voters.
Key members of Republican Newt Gingrich’s campaign team resigned last week in a devastating blow to his 2012 election hopes. His campaign has sputtered from the beginning and the mass exodus could scare off would-be financial contributors and other supporters. But he was still expected to take part in Monday’s debate in New Hampshire.
The former speaker of the House of Representatives was the main architect of the 1994 Republican congressional election victory and author of the “Contract with America” political manifesto. Gingrich ended his 20-year congressional career after Republican losses in the 1998 elections.
He has taken steps to ease concerns among the religious right about his personal life. Gingrich is married to his third wife, Callista, with whom he had an affair in the mid-1990s while he was married to his second wife.
After announcing his candidacy, Gingrich flew straight into trouble by criticizing a House Republican Medicare reform plan on national TV. He later apologized in the face of criticism from fellow conservatives.
Then came revelations that the Georgia Republican and his wife had a large credit line at high-fashion jeweler Tiffany’s.
Gingrich then disappeared abruptly from the campaign trail and was later reported to be on an Aegean cruise with his wife.