- Associated Press - Monday, June 13, 2011

WASHINGTON — Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs will defend President Barack Obama in New Hampshire on Monday, countering criticism at a Republican presidential debate in the nation’s first primary state.

Campaign officials said Gibbs will appear in network and local affiliate television interviews connected to the debate, an early forum for the Republican presidential field. Obama’s stewardship of the economy, reform of the nation’s health care system and handling of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya are all expected to draw fire from the Republican field.

Less than 17 months before Election Day 2012, Obama’s campaign is rebuilding its political organization in early primary states and ramping up its network of volunteers and call centers used to re-engage voters. While Obama has focused on governing and largely limited his role to fundraising, the Democratic National Committee and outside groups have begun efforts to define leading Republicans.

Gibbs will play a similar role in New Hampshire, defending Obama’s policies as it faces fresh criticism from the slate of GOP candidates. A longtime Obama adviser, Gibbs served as a spokesman for Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign, 2008 presidential campaign and as White House press secretary for two years.

Seven Republican presidential hopefuls will attend the Manchester, N.H., debate, including: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota; businessman Herman Cain of Georgia; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia; Rep. Ron Paul of Texas; former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty; and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.