(Jim Cole / Associated Press )
The second debate of the Republican presidential primary season will offer candidates the first real opportunity to challenge front-runner Mitt Romney face-to-face.
The former Massachusetts governor, who announced his candidacy Thursday, is one of seven GOP hopefuls who've committed to participate in the June 13 forum at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, organizers announced Friday.
Romney will face off with former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
The first Republican debate, in South Carolina on May 5, included just Pawlenty, Santorum, Paul, Cain and Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor. Romney chose not to attend; the sponsors of that event, Fox News Channel and the South Carolina Republican Party, had stringent requirements to qualify that ruled out others.
This time, organizers WMUR-TV, CNN and New Hampshire's Union Leader newspaper, stipulated that participants must only be "taking substantive steps towards a presidential run," and have demonstrated support with either an average of 2% in three national polls released in April and May, or at least 2% in a May University of New Hampshire poll.
Two potential candidates, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, declined invitations. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told WMUR on Thursday, "That's quite soon. So no, I don't think I'm going to be there."
Invitations were also extended to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Donald Trump, who have all said they won't be running.
The debate will air live on CNN and WMUR from 8 to 10 p.m. EDT.
New Hampshire's presidential primary is traditionally the first in the nation, following Iowa's leadoff caucuses. It is tentatively scheduled to occur in early February 2012, but the state may move the date up if others break the Republican National Committee's established calendar.