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Friday, November 18, 2011 - 9:00am

Georgia Debate Could Sway Votes

Georgia Republicans announced late Monday they will co-host a presidential candidate debate in Atlanta just before Georgia’s primary.

The Georgia GOP said the debate co-hosted by CNN will be in the days leading up to Super Tuesday on March 6, when Georgia and roughly a dozen other states will vote.

If it’s a close race, the bump candidates have been getting from strong debate performances could be a big factor in who wins primaries in those states, according to political scientist Kerwin Swint.

“You can see a candidate’s fortunes – either through fundraising or poll numbers – directly tied to debate performances,” said Swint, a professor at Kennesaw State University. “So I think you can make a case that debates are more important than ever in actually getting candidate support [and] getting people to focus in on strengths and weaknesses of a certain candidate.”

Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry and Georgian Herman Cain have jumped in polls after strong debate performances – and slid after weak ones.

The debate in Atlanta could be moot if a candidate has won enough of the early primaries in January and February to be the clear Republican nominee. But even if the front-runner is decided, Swint said the debate could have influence.

“Even if [the nomination is] tied up for [Mitt] Romney, for example, there would at least be maybe a contest for who might be the [vice president], that kind of thing,” Swint said.

He said a March debate also likely will have more substance and depth since fewer candidates will probably be in the race by then.

Georgia Republicans said they will invite the 10 GOP candidates on Georgia’s ballot to participate.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp set March 6 as Georgia’s primary date betting the state would have a big influence since states that decided to vote earlier face penalties.

Georgia Republicans said having this debate in Atlanta proves the road to the White House comes through Georgia.

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