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Crowley: Republican field is wide open

By Candy Crowley, CNN Chief Political Correspondent
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Candy Crowley previews the CNN NH Debate
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Most of current crop of Republican presidential contenders are former office-holders
  • Almost 40% of Republican voters say they're not satisfied with current field
  • For those not yet in the race, time is running out -- voters are already choosing sides

CNN hosts the first New Hampshire Republican presidential debate on Monday from Manchester at 8 p.m. ET. Follow all the issues and campaign news leading up to the debate on CNN.com/POLITICS and @cnnpolitics on Twitter.

Washington (CNN) -- There is no argument the Republican presidential field has breadth.

From Mitt Romney, the former Republican governor of liberal Massachusetts, who needs to convince primary doubters of his core conservatism to Texas Rep. Ron Paul, sometimes called "the intellectual godfather" of the Tea Party, who needs to convince doubters that in his third run at the job he is more than a conversation-mover.

It's largely a field of formers -- not a contemporary marquee name or a perfect fit in the bunch:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- a conservative big-idea guy, who often careens off-message and carries some personal baggage. He might be carrying his own actual baggage now since almost his entire senior campaign staff has bolted.

An inside look at Monday's CNN debate Video

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- like Romney, he has chief executive credibility, having maneuvered his way through two terms in one of the bluest states in the country, but he'll have to defend some of that record to a conservative base and work on upping his campaign skills to the national level.

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Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum -- a favorite of social conservatives whose first pressing problem is convincing people he has a shot at powerhouse Team Obama.

And the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza Herman Cain, a conservative radio host. Dismissed by Republican stalwarts as entertainment, he has nonetheless found some poll traction.

Profiles of the seven GOP contenders

There is some question about depth -- almost 40% of Republicans say they're not satisfied with the field. Critics have called it weak but a top Republican strategist thinks it's more like wide-open, American style.

"People like to have a lot of choices when they go into the grocery store, and they are looking at cereals -- they want a big array of choices," said Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. "The same is true for activists and others -- they want lots of choices and that will be the case until things are settled."

Social media at the debate Video

Tea Party star congresswoman Michele Bachman and Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China, are two of the premiere unsettled pieces of the Republican puzzle. But they need to get in now, if not earlier -- people are choosing sides, campaign money is finite and time is almost up.

"The Ames [Iowa] straw poll is less that three months away and it is the first real event of the primary cycle, so time is beginning, you know -- the calendar is beginning to accelerate," Gillespie said.

Ready or not.

Watch State of the Union with Candy Crowley Sundays at 9am ET. For the latest from State of the Union click here.

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