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Santorum Could Play Airtime Catch-Up In Pair Of Weekend Debates

Rick Santorum has complained about being disregarded during a string of Republican presidential debates. The former Pennsylvania senator has a point (more on that in a moment), but likely won't for long: He should be at the center of attention during a pair of televised debates this weekend that lead into the New Hampshire primary.

Fresh off a near-win at the Iowa caucuses, Santorum arguably gets his first good chance to make a strong impression on much of the American public Saturday night, during a two-hour prime-time debate (9 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET) on ABC, from Manchester, N.H.

Ten hours later, NBC News and Facebook team up for their own debate from Concord, N.H.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman also could get renewed attention. Huntsman has staked his entire campaign on a strong showing in New Hampshire, has been there for months, and — alone among the candidates — skipped Iowa to remain in New Hampshire last Tuesday. That should count for something before a pair of Granite State audiences.

It was near the end of a debate eight weeks ago — the 10th of the campaign season — when Huntsman and Santorum used the forum to joke about how relatively little attention they each were getting.

"Let's give Gov. Huntsman an opportunity to take 30 seconds on that question," CBS moderator Scott Pelley offered during the foreign-policy-centered debate.

"Thank you," Huntsman said from the far end of the stage. "Gets a little lonely over here in Siberia."

"Tell me about it," piped in Santorum, from the opposite wing of the stage, separated by six other candidates that evening of Nov. 12 in Spartanburg, S.C.

And they may have had reason to gripe. An analysis from Smart Politics and the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs found that in the 10 GOP debates between Sept. 7 and the most recent one on Dec. 15 – Santorum ranked seventh out of eight candidates in per-debate speaking time, averaging 7 minutes and 22 seconds. Huntsman ranked sixth.

Only Herman Cain averaged less speaking time per debate than Santorum or Huntsman. Mitt Romney averaged the most time by far, at 13 minutes and 37 seconds per debate.

Here are the full rankings and per-debate average speaking time as determined by Smart Politics:

  1. Mitt Romney 13:37
  2. Rick Perry 10:32
  3. Newt Gingrich 9:19
  4. Michele Bachmann 8:48
  5. Ron Paul 7:53
  6. Jon Huntsman 7:32
  7. Rick Santorum 7:22
  8. Herman Cain 7:07
Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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