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First Republican presidential debate postponed

By John Whitesides

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The first scheduled debate of the 2012 Republican presidential nominating race has been postponed from May until September because of a lack of candidates.

The debate at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in California will move to September 14 from May 2 to allow more time for Republicans to enter the race for the right to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012.

"Although there will be a long and impressive list of Republican candidates who eventually take the field, too few have made the commitment thus far for a debate to be worthwhile in early May," said John Heubusch, director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.

While most of the candidates in both parties had entered the presidential race by this stage in 2007, this year's Republican race has been slow to begin.

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty last week became the first major contender to take a formal step toward running when he formed a committee to explore a bid.

A variety of factors have led to the slow start, and the uncertainty about who is running and when they will enter the race has led to even greater caution about when to make it official.

One prominent candidate who is expected to run, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, is putting together campaign and fundraising teams but is in no hurry to make an announcement.

Two governors who are pondering campaigns -- Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Mitch Daniels of Indiana -- are delaying decisions until their state's legislative sessions end. Departing U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is waiting until he returns from China at the end of April.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, potential candidates who have television and other side projects, have little incentive to make quick decisions given their high name recognition. A formal declaration would force them to end their paid punditry.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has delayed his planned announcement, now expected in May, to give him more time to sort out his business interests ahead of a campaign.

For now, another Republican debate scheduled for May 5 in South Carolina is still scheduled. The debates will be televised.

Obama is expected to formally launch his re-election effort from Chicago within the next few weeks.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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