Seven contenders for the Republican presidential nomination have begun facing off in the first major debate of the 2012 campaign cycle. Candidates opened the debate by attacking President Barack Obama's record on the economy, especially his 2010 overhaul of the healthcare system. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is the front-runner in the field bidding to challenge Mr Obama. The first Republican primary elections do not take place until February. The president's handling of the economy and healthcare reform quickly drew criticism, while his policies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya were also expected to draw fire during the debate at Saint Anselm College.