It seems the slate of candidates expected to appear at South Carolina’s Republican debate Thursday is destined to be filled with a host of relative unknowns. Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich declined the opportunity to attend and Former Governors Huckabee and Palin have yet to form the necessary “exploratory committees” required for inclusion; or even announce their respective intentions to run. Conservative starlet Michele Bachmann is in another camp – having more or less announced her candidacy, but still yet to form an official exploratory committee; and also not attending.
The absence of the “major candidates” will; however, provide an opportunity for a few of the lesser known candidates to gain a bit of national exposure as the debate is set to be televised on Fox News – that is unless the network decides to pull the plug if the list of candidates continues to shrink.
Romney, considered an early frontrunner for the GOP nomination, has formed an exploratory committee, one of the criteria required to participate in the debate as determined by its sponsors, the South Carolina Republican Party and Fox News.
But Romney has been carefully maintaining a low profile in hopes of avoiding criticism from rivals.
Romney also poured a small fortune into South Carolina during his last presidential run, only to pull out at the last minute ahead of a disappointing fourth place finish in the 2008 primary. He has no staff in the early primary state, but performed well in a series of closely-watched GOP straw polls there last month.
A source familiar with the debate planning said that former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson are likely to be on the debate stage in Greenville. Herman Cain said later Monday that he will also attend.
Gingrich joins other top-tier contenders, such as Mitt Romney, in bypassing the debate, which is being sponsored by the South Carolina GOP and Fox News. Gingrich has indicated that an announcement concerning his candidacy will be made imminently, most likely within the next two weeks.
The news isn’t entirely surprising. The requirements for debate participation include having an established exploratory committee, something Bachmann has consistently said would happen “by June.” Prodded on Sunday by Fox News host Chris Wallace, Bachmann crystallized the vague sentiment she’s expressed in recent weeks.
Gov Nikki Haley has offered up some unsolicited advice for these candidates that plan to make noise in South Carolina primaries…
“There is a group … that has come through South Carolina. They are trying to tell me how they are going to win. I don’t care how they are going to win, I want to know how they are going to fix our country.”
In related news… the President is also expected to visit Ground Zero on Thursday – probably not a coincidence.
While the aforementioned “related news” will no doubt steal the MSM headlines, I do believe if there is a headline to be grabbed at this debate, it will be pounced upon by none other than Herman Cain. His candidacy has been slow to gain traction outside the ranks of deeply conservative circles, and of course the Right wing blogging universe, but I am confident that it is just a matter of time before his star rises among a group of dimly lit bulbs.