Republicans prepare to square off in Iowa debate

Republican presidential candidates are preparing to face off Thursday night in the first Iowa debate.

Eight GOP candidates in the race for the White House — Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain — will be jostling for attention at the Iowa Republican debate at Iowa State University, Politico says.

But two notable potential Republican candidates, Rick Perry and Sarah Palin, may steal the spotlight despite being absent from the debate, the Guardian says.

A spokesman for Texas Governor Rick Perry confirmed Thursday — just hours before the debate in Iowa, which Perry will not attend — that he will run for president, CBS News reports.

Palin has not declared her candidacy but is continuing to tease supporters with a visit to Iowa, including a stop at the state fair.

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Competition since the New Hampshire debate two months ago has been relatively low key, but at the Republican debate in Ames, Iowa, “the real games begin,” veteran consultant Mark McKinnon told Politico.

The candidates are hoping to generate momentum two days before a closely watched straw poll, Reuters says.

Mitt Romney, who lost the Republican nomination to John McCain in 2008, is the current frontrunner nationwide, while polls say that congresswoman Michele Bachmann is the leader in Iowa, where the first caucus is scheduled to be held in February.

The debate, sponsored by Fox News and the Washington Examiner, will see the debut of Jon Huntsman, the Obama administration's former U.S. ambassador to Beijing, China.

The debate comes two days before the Iowa straw poll, and an attention-getting performance could boost a candidate into the top spot.