U.S. Republican presidential candidates are debating in the central state of Iowa, hoping to generate momentum ahead of a “straw poll,” or test vote, that could identify frontrunners for the 2012 party nomination.
Eight candidates are squaring off in the nationally televised debate at Iowa State University in the city of Ames, Iowa.
The candidates include former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the current frontrunner, and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a leader of the conservative “Tea Party” movement in the House of Representatives. Also participating are former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, U.S. Congressman Ron Paul, and the former U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman.
Not in the debate is Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is expected to announce Saturday that he will run for the Republican nomination.
Perry, who could be a formidable candidate, can potentially appeal to social and economic conservatives. He also has a strong job growth record as Texas governor. Surveys found most Republican primary voters plan to support Romney, with Perry next in line.
Performances in the debate could strongly impact Saturday's straw poll results, and possibly set the stage for success in next year's Iowa presidential caucuses.
In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama used his victory in the Iowa caucuses as a springboard to best his rival Hillary Clinton in the battle for the Democratic Party nomination and the presidency.
Other candidates in Thursday's debate include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia businessman Herman Cain and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is not participating in the debate. She has not declared her candidacy.
Perry is the longest-serving governor in Texas history. He took over from Republican George W. Bush after Mr. Bush won the 2000 U.S. presidential election.