MANCHESTER, N.H. -- By midday, Manchester was already abuzz with anticipation of the Monday night debate. Well -- that was true of the small percentage of the Granite Staters planning to watch the two hour extravaganza rather than the Bruins' Stanley Cup game anyway.
The Heritage Foundation, capitalizing on the critical mass of journalists and activists, piggy-backed on the event to hold an issues seminar elsewhere on the campus of Saint Anselm College. Quick recap: Obama = deficits = bad. Vote accordingly.
Rick Santorum dropped by reveling in his soaring, relatively speaking, poll numbers. He has had a steady -- ER won't say flat line -- run of 2 percent showings through the spring and early summer, but on the eve of the debate, CNN's latest poll showed him at 6 percent.
Asked his reaction, he said, "Better to be going up than down.''
On his expectations for the debate, Mr. Santorum said, "I'm not a swing-for-the-fences kind of guy. I just want to show people that there is a serious conservative alternative.''
The CNN poll, along with Gallup's new numbers, continued to show former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney atop the field. Asked if that made his a target for his fellow debaters, Mr. Santorum said, "Certainly, I think Romney and health care will be discussed.''
That was an expectation fueled the previous day by former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who, on Fox News and in a series of retail campaign stops here Sunday smilingly conflated Massachusetts and national health care laws under the neologism, "Obamneycare.''
Former businessman and talk show host Herman Cain was the breakout star of the previous GOP debate in South Carolina. He and Santorum ran across one another in the lobby of St. Anslem's Institute of Politics.
"Have fun tonight,'' Santorum said as they locked in the standard politicians' handshake -- right hands joined, left hands clasped on shoulders.
A few moments earlier, the New Hampshire Democratic Party held a press conference at which one speaker compared the GOP hopefuls to a swarm of mosquitoes -- irritating but largely harmless. Responding to that characterization, Mr. Cain reminded reporters that some insects sting. He might have added the threats of malaria and dengue fever, but perhaps he's saving that point for the general election.
His expectations for the debate?
"A night to begin drawing contrasts,'' he predicted.