Tampa, Fla. — The first three battles of the Republican presidential race — Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina — were frequently waged in crowded restaurants. Pizza Ranch, a Midwestern favorite, featured prominently, as did the Red Arrow diner in Manchester, N.H., and Bobby’s Bar-B-Q in Warrenville, S.C. But here, in the sprawling Sunshine State, the focus on retail politics has diminished, and in certain areas, disappeared. Campaigns are organizing on the ground, of course, but the television war, spread over ten media markets, overshadows the handshakes.
On Monday night, the four remaining contenders — Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul — will meet here, on Florida’s west coast, for the first of two televised debates this week. Monday’s clash will be broadcast by NBC News; on Thursday, CNN will host a debate in Jacksonville. These two events, expected to be watched by thousands of likely GOP voters, will have significant effects — dominating the news cycle and forging impressions.
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