There are just three days until the New Hampshire primary — and the GOP presidential race is a vastly different contest than it was just a week ago. Will tonight’s ABC News/Yahoo! News/WMUR-TV debate in Manchester further shake things up? Join us as we liveblog the Granite State GOP primary debate here! Refresh this page regularly for the latest updates, and check in with The Fix posse for a running conversation on the night’s proceedings

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Midnight | Gingrich, rivals, would watch non-existent football/basketball championship

We leave you, liveblog readers, with this exchange from the very end of tonight’s debate:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So if you weren’t here running for president, Governor Perry, what would you be doing on a Saturday night?

PERRY: I’d probably be at the shooting range.


SANTORUM: Instead of being shot at.

PERRY: Yeah.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaker Gingrich?

GINGRICH: I’d be watching the college championship basketball game.

(UNKNOWN): Football game.

GINGRICH: I mean, football game.


Thank you.

SANTORUM: I’d be doing the same thing with my family. We’d be huddled around, and we’d be watching the championship game.

ROMNEY: I’m afraid it’s football. I love it.



The only problem? There’s no championship football – or basketball – game tonight. There’s a college football BCS national championship game coming up between Alabama and LSU, but that game is set for Monday night.

So long for tonight, and see you at the next debate – Sunday morning.

11:25 p.m. | Perry spokesman walks back Iraq comments

Reuters’ Sam Youngman reports from the post-debate spin room that Rick Perry’s spokesman, Mark Miner, is walking back the governor’s remarks on Iraq:

Mark Miner walks back Perry on troops going back to Iraq. Said the guv was talking only about “the strategic placement” of our troops

While it’s still early to tell what the ultimate fallout from the remarks will be, it’s certainly not any help to Perry’s efforts to convince voters that he’s overcome his tendency to stumble during primary debates.

11:05 p.m. | Huntsman in Mandarin: Romney ‘doesn’t quite understand this situation’

The heated-back-and-forth tonight between Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney on how to respond to China’s currency policy ended like this:

“I think it’s important to note, as they would say in China, that ‘Ta bu tai liaojie zhege qingxing -- He doesn’t quite understand this situation,’” Huntsman said of Romney. “What he is calling for would lead to a trade war. It makes for easy talk and a nice applause line, but it’s far different from the reality in the U.S.-China relationship.”

10:55 p.m. | Jon Huntsman whips out the Mandarin

After Jon Huntsman criticizes him for wanting to “slap a tariff on China” in order to solve the country’s economic woes, Romney at last engages Huntsman, and the two have a sharp back-and-forth that includes – take that! – Huntsman throwing in a few words in Mandarin.

“What he is calling for would lead to a trade war,” Huntsman says of Romney’s stand on pressuring China to allow its currency to increase in value – an issue that’s been a hot topic on Capitol Hill. “In the end, we get a tariff in return if we don’t sit down and have a logical, sensible conversation.”

Romney downplays the notion that a move by the U.S. to ratchet up pressure on China could end up backfiring.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the last thing China wants is a trade war,” Romney says.

The two talk over each other for a moment, and at one point Huntsman – who was a missionary in Taiwan for two years as a young man and most recently served as President Obama’s ambassador to China – drops a phrase in Mandarin.

With that, the conversation moves onward, and the debate heads toward a close.

10:45 p.m. | Rick Santorum: ‘There are no classes in America’

Rick Santorum hits Mitt Romney’s economic plan as “not particularly bold,” and then launches into an attack on the use of the word “middle class” as opposed to “middle-income” people.

“There are no classes in America,” Santorum says. “We are a country that [doesn’t] allow for titles. ... That’s not the language that I’ll use as president. I’ll use the language of bringing people together.”

Santorum also draws a sharp contrast between himself and Romney when it comes to the question of which candidate is best poised to draw a sharp contrast with Obama. (Got that?)

“We’re looking for someone who can win this race, who can win this race on the economy,” Santorum says, arguing that he would provide the sharpest contrast with Obama on health care, cap-and-trade and other issues.

This is Santorum’s pitch:

“If you want someone that’s a clear contrast, that has a strong record, has a vision for this country that’s going to get this country going – an appeal to blue-collar workers in Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and Michigan and Indiana, and deliver that message that we care about you too, not just about Wall Street and bailing them out -- then I’m the guy that you want to put in the nomination.”

10:35 p.m. | Debt and taxes

More than an hour into the debate, we’re now on the topic of the country’s more than $15 trillion debt. Would anyone agree to the kind of revenues the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan would raise? asks Stephanopoulos.

“No, I wouldn’t,” Rick Santorum responds. He reiterates his plan for a two-tiered system that would include five specific types of deductions covering charities, health care and other areas.

“It would be great not to have taxes, but unfortunately we have to have taxes,” Mitt Romney says.

He argues that “simplifying the code, broadening the base is the right way to go for our tax code in the long term” – the go-to recipe for most Republicans on the issue of tax reform, from Capitol Hill to the campaign trail.

Perry seizes on the opportunity to slam the White House over the NLRB-Boeing dispute – the latest sign from a candidate on the stage that much of the field is already looking past New Hampshire to South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary.

Huntsman mentions his flat-tax plan and takes a moment to ding Romney on his record on job creation as governor of Massachusetts.

”You can look at what Mitt did in Massachusetts; he was No. 47,” Huntsman says. Romney – who strategically would have little to gain from hammering Huntsman -- lets the comment slide.

10:25 p.m. | Perry: ‘I would send troops back to Iraq’

Rick Perry – who’s been very quiet this debate – joins the other candidates in criticizing President Obama’s foreign policy, but then goes one step further, giving a response that’s likely to get some attention over the coming days.

“I would send troops back into Iraq,” Perry says, criticizing Obama’s withdrawal of combat troops from the country as an effort “to kowtow to his liberal leftist base.”

“I think it is a huge error for us,” Perry says. “We’re going to see Iran, in my opinion, move back in literally at the speed of light.”

10:15 p.m. | Contraception, same-sex marriage and the ‘news media bias’

Things have taken a sharp turn away from the economy and toward social issues – and despite repeated questions from George Stephanopoulos, Mitt Romney is careful not to get drawn into a debate over whether contraception should be illegal.

“Contraception?” he asks. “It’s working just fine. Leave it alone.”

Jon Huntsman, who’s been getting much more airtime in this debate compared to previous ones (and certainly more than Rick Perry), makes a funny that’s, well, pretty funny:

“I have seven kids,” he says. “I’m glad we’re off the contraception discussion.”

On same-sex marriage, Romney focuses his argument on the idea that “this decision about what we call marriage has consequences.”

“Calling it ‘marriage’ creates a whole host of problems for families, for the law, for the practice of religion, for education,” he says, adding that “3,000 years of human history” shouldn’t be disregarded.

“To say that marriage is something other than the relationship between a man and a woman is a mistake.”

And the combative Newt Gingrich is back.

“I just want to raise a point about the news media bias,” he says. He goes on to say that there is more “anti-Christian bias” than bias against other religious groups, and wins a round of applause from the audience.

As the social issues round wears down, Paul is thrown a question on whether he plans to pursue a third-party bid. He says he’s not interested, but also seems to leave himself some wiggle room.

“The answer’s always the same,” he says. “I have no plans to do it. ... I don’t want to. So I have no intention. But I don’t know why a person can’t reserve a judgment and see how things turn out.”

He adds that he wants to “put as much pressure” on the GOP field as possible. And he jokes that he’s gaining in the polls.

“I’m doing pretty well,” Paul says. “Catching up on Mitt every single day.”

9:45 p.m. | ‘Dr. Paul makes a lot of comments. It’s part of his style’

Now it’s Paul versus Gingrich – in a very heated exchange over Paul’s remark this week that Gingrich was a “chickenhawk” for backing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan even though he himself has never served in the military.

Asked whether he stands by the remark, Paul responds:

“Yeah. I think people who don’t serve when they could and they get three or four or even five deferments, they have no right to send our kids off to war. ... I’m trying to stop the wars. At least I went when they called me up.”

That gets Gingrich very revved up.

“Dr. Paul makes a lot of comments. It’s part of his style,” he says. He adds: “Dr. Paul has a long history of saying things that are inaccurate and false. The fact is, I never asked for a deferment.”

Back to Paul:

“I have a pet peeve that annoys me to a great deal, because when I see these young men coming back, my heart weeps for them.”

Gingrich then notes his father’s years in the military and chides Paul: “I think I have a pretty good idea of what it’s like as a family to worry about your father getting killed, and I personally resent the kinds of comments and aspersions he routinely makes without accurate information, and then just slurs people.”

Paul gets the last word on the topic. “When I was drafted, I was married and I had two kids, and I went,” he says, an answer that’s met with light applause from the audience.

The debate then shifts gears, and Paul gets a few minutes to defend himself against the controversial newsletters that were issued in his name.

“Concentrating on something that was written 20 years ago that I didn’t write is diverting attention from most of the important issues,” Paul says, reiterating his defense of the past few weeks.

He goes on to cite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as one of his heroes “because he practiced the libertarian principle of civil disobedience,” and he charges that it’s the enforcement of drug laws and the racial divide when it comes to the death sentence that is evidence of “racism” within the government.

“How many times have you seen a white rich person get the electric chair?” he asks.

9:20 p.m. | ‘It caught you not telling the truth, Ron’

Opening statements? Sooo 2011.

We’re barely a quarter of an hour into the debate and the candidates are already taking direct aim at President Obama and each other.

Mitt Romney starts off by dinging Obama on jobs.

“The president is going to try to take responsibility for things getting better,” Romney says when asked about the latest unemployment report, which shows the economy adding jobs.

He follows with a classic Mitt-ism: “It’s like the rooster trying to take responsibility for the sunrise. He didn’t do it.”

Next up is Santorum, who’s asked about his criticism of Romney’s emphasis on his business background. He doesn’t back away from it.

“Well, business experience doesn’t necessarily match up with being the commander-in-chief of this country. ... You’ve got to lead and inspire,” Santorum says.

Responds Romney, with an attack on Santorum’s 15 years in Washington:

“I think people who spend their life in Washington don’t understand what happens out in the real economy. They think people who start businesses are just managers.”

The winning exchange of the first 20 minutes of the debate seems to go to Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.

Paul, when asked about his devastating new ad against Santorum in South Carolina, launches into a defense of the spot – and is quickly interrupted by a “ding” of the debate bell that limits candidates’ answers.

“There it goes again,” Paul says.

“It caught you not telling the truth, Ron,” Santorum interjects, to audible “oooohs” from the crowd.

9 p.m. | And we’re off

And the debate is about to kick off. Six contenders are facing off: Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), Gov. Rick Perry (Tex.), former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum

The night’s moderators are ABC anchors Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos, along with WMUR-TV anchor Josh McElveen.

8:30 | Bauer endorsement lends Santorum momentum heading into debate

In case you missed it this afternoon, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum received a high-profile endorsement from Gary Bauer, the 2000 presidential candidate and influential Christian conservative.

Reports The Post’s Dan Balz:

Bauer, who chairs the Campaign for Working Families, concluded that, of all the candidates, the former Pennsylvania senator comes closest to following the conservative principles of former president Ronald Reagan.

Bauer’s endorsement will be seen as a boost to his hopes of encouraging conservatives opposed to Mitt Romney to come together behind his candidacy, rather than have their votes scattered among several other conservatives still in the race.

The endorsement comes one day after Bauer cut a South Carolina TV ad for the Emergency Committee for Israel, slamming Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex..) on foreign policy. Taken together, Friday’s ad and Saturday’s endorsement are signs that influential social conservative leaders may be swinging into action after weeks of ambivalence about the GOP field.

The question for the contenders heading into Saturday’s debate is, will either former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) or Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) train their fire on Santorum in an effort to knock him off his stride?