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New Hampshire Republican debate: Why isn't Ron Paul attacking Mitt Romney?

The New Hampshire debate Saturday was marked by a conspicuous lack of attacks on front-runner Mitt Romney, even from flamethrower Ron Paul. That Republican debate strategy might not work for Romney's challengers long-term.

By Staff writer / January 8, 2012

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas points to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as he answers a question during a Republican presidential candidate debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Saturday.

Elise Amendola/AP

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The Ronald Reagan mantra of "thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican" curiously seemed to benefit only one person at Saturday's Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire: runaway front-runner Mitt Romney.

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Jon Hunstsman Jr. apparently insulted Mr. Romney in Chinese (we're still waiting for a ruling from the judges on that one).

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich's attacks on Romney sounded vaguely like an infomercial for The New York Times – hardly the most lauded media source among Republicans. Mr. Gingrich cited the paper's article on Romney's record at the venture-capital firm he founded, Bain Capital, four times in about 30 seconds.

The article, it turns out, wasn't written by The New York Times at all, but the Reuters news agency. 

Even the scorched-earth campaign run by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas came nowhere near Romney's doorstep. When Romney deflected a question on the Fourth Amendment to Paul, whom he dubbed the field's "constitutionalist," the two might well have curtseyed.

So why did no one bother to take on Romney Saturday night, in what might have been their best opportunity to do so before the New Hampshire primary Tuesday? 

Congressman Paul's national campaign chairman might have said it best: “Mitt Romney’s not fishing from the same pond as us," Jesse Benton told Politico. "We’re fighting to consolidate ourselves as the lone Romney alternative, the anti-Romney.… We’re the only candidate with the fundraising base, and we’re the only candidate with a national organization, and right now, I think we’re starting to show that we’re the only candidate with the election results to be able to do that.”

The fact is, the field seems to have come to the conclusion that Romney is untouchable in New Hampshire. He leads Paul by 22 points (39 percent to 17 percent) in the most recent poll by Suffolk University, with former Sen. Rick Santorum a distant third at 9 percent.

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