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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?

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Those differences were in full view at the last debate in South Carolina on November 12, when candidates spelled out differing views on using military force to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions, a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and the use of waterboarding in interrogations.

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Romney forcefully supported a military option if needed to stop Iran's nuclear development, and Gingrich said he would back "whatever steps are necessary" and proposed a covert campaign against Iran's scientists. Cain and U.S. Representative Ron Paul opposed military action.

On Pakistan, Perry said he would look at whether to eliminate U.S. aid to Pakistan, a move Gingrich supported. But Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator, said Pakistan's nuclear weapons made it imperative that it remain a U.S. friend.

Romney, Cain and Representative Michele Bachmann backed the renewed use of waterboarding for terrorism suspects, while Paul and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman opposed it. Waterboarding is a simulated drowning technique that critics call torture.

Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China, is the only one of the Republican contenders with any foreign policy experience. Democrats have criticized the Republican field for a lack of substance in the subject.

Cain, whose campaign has faded after a series of sexual harassment allegations that he denied, is also likely to face new questions at the debate about his foreign policy expertise after a much-publicized gaffe on Libya last week.

The former pizza executive was stumped when asked by a Wisconsin newspaper editorial board about Obama's policy in Libya.

"OK, Libya," Cain said, stalling for time and staring at the ceiling as he searched for an answer. "I gotta go back, see, got all this stuff twirling around in my head," he said.

The debate, co-sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, is the first presidential debate in Washington since a 1960 face-off between Democrat John Kennedy and Republican Richard Nixon that helped launch Kennedy's run to the White House.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

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