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Six Republicans debate in South Carolina, hoping to make a move in crowded race

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    MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Six Republican candidates, one strikingly jumbled GOP race and a ton at stake in the heat of the primary season.
    It’s the recipe for Thursday night’s debate.
    Arizona Sen. John McCain, the big winner in New Hampshire, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the Iowa caucus victor, looked for solid performances to keep momentum they earned with the victories. A misstep could undercut either of them.
    Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, wanted to do well to help revive his campaign after disappointing second-place finishes in both states. Three candidates — former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and Texas Rep. Ron Paul — sought a boost for their flagging campaigns.
    The debate was being held as a new poll showed McCain got a bounce from his New Hampshire triumph; he now leads the field in South Carolina after trailing for months. The Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey showed McCain with the support of 25 percent, Huckabee with 18 percent, Romney 17 percent; the other three candidates were in single digits.
    Immigration, Iraq and cultural issues were likely topics at the debate.
    By design, the debate comes two days after New Hampshire’s primary and just five days before Michigan Republicans vote. South Carolina’s turn is Jan. 19.
    That state’s GOP Chairman, Katon Dawson, fiercely sought to protect South Carolina’s first-in-the-South primary status, and maneuvered to force candidates to pay attention to the state by scheduling a debate they seemingly couldn’t ignore.
    By midday, the area around the Myrtle Beach Convention Center had turned into a political carnival. The six Republicans were greeted by giant sand sculptures of their heads — a Mount Rushmore-like rendering of the big names in the 2008 GOP race.
    Their campaign buses — with competing slogans — were parked in a nearby lot. One of Thompson’s said, ‘‘Restore Law & Order to the White House’’ — a play on the TV show that made him a household name.
    The debate is sponsored by the South Carolina Republican Party and Fox News Channel.

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