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GOP debate: Will Newt Gingrich widen lead over Mitt Romney?

Newt Gingrich leads the GOP presidential candidate race, say polls. Will the gap between Gingrich and Mitt Romney widen during tonight's CNN GOP debate over Iran, Pakistan, and other foreign policy issues?

By John WhitesidesReuters / November 22, 2011

Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney at the GOP debate for presidential candidates earlier this month. The two meet again tonight.

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

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Washington

The Republican presidential hopefuls meet on Tuesday for their second foreign policy debate in 10 days, with Newt Gingrich looking to extend a campaign surge that has propelled him to a lead over Mitt Romney in polls for the 2012 race.

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The debate will shine a spotlight on Republican differences over Iran, Pakistan, the use of waterboarding, and foreign aid in a race that so far has focused largely on economic issues and featured few policy clashes among the top contenders.

Gingrich, Romney and six other Republicans take part in the 8 p.m. debate at Washington's DAR Constitution Hall, which airs live on CNN.

IN PICTURES: Newt Gingrich now and then

Gingrich could have the most to lose in Tuesday's showdown. He is the latest in a series of conservatives to challenge the more moderate Romney for the top spot in the Republican race for the right to face Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012.

A CNN/Opinion Research poll on Monday showed Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, with a 4-point national edge over Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has hovered near the top of polls all year.

Conservatives have failed to coalesce around a clear alternative to Romney, but Gingrich's campaign has soared in recent weeks as rivals like businessman Herman Cain and Texas Governor Rick Perry faltered in the spotlight.

The debate, the 11th of the year for the Republican candidates, comes barely more than a month before Iowa kicks off the state-by-state nominating fight. But the focus on foreign policy, which has taken a backseat to the economy, could limit its long-term impact.

"There are differences in views among the Republican presidential candidates on foreign policy, but that isn't where the interest has been for voters or the media," Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak said.

FOREIGN POLICY DIFFERENCES

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