ROMNEY & CO. WILL SHOW UP TO KISS THE KOCH RING…. In less than a week, Fox News is scheduled to air the year’s first debate for the Republican presidential field. Organizers have run into a bit of a snag, though — the GOP candidates aren’t inclined to show up. That’s especially true of Mitt Romney, who’s spent more time in recent weeks writing op-eds than appearing in public.

It appears, however, that there’s one sure-fire way to get would-be presidents to turn out in droves: receive an invitation from the Koch brothers.

Five likely Republican hopefuls are set to take the stage during a Friday presidential forum in New Hampshire, which is being billed as the largest 2012 event to date in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and conservative talk radio host Herman Cain will speak before scores of key Granite State donors and activists at the Presidential Summit on Spending and Job Creation.

Each hopeful will be given eight minutes to appeal to the crowd, followed by a round of questions from Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, the organizer. Pawlenty will lead the evening off, with Bachmann — a frequent headliner of Tea Party rallies also organized by AFP — set to speak last.

To be sure, presidential candidates showing up at an event in New Hampshire nine months before the primary isn’t exactly unusual. What’s interesting about this, though, is recognizing what the Kochs can make happen. Romney, for example, hasn’t been willing to share an event with any of his GOP rivals all year.

But Republican hopefuls are reluctant to slight the secretive, far-right billionaires who plan to invest at least $88 million into the 2012 campaign. The Koch ring must be kissed.

This is especially true of Romney, who’s appeared eager to ingratiate himself with the Kochs, and who’s already received generous contributions from the family.

Commenting on today’s event, and the Kochs’ agenda in general, New Hampshire Democratic Party Communications Director Holly Shulman said in a statement, “There’s an old saying that you can tell a lot about someone by the company they keep – and Republicans standing shoulder to shoulder with AFP and the Koch brothers proves that they care more about the special interests than the interests of Granite Staters.”

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.