Thursday’s first-in-the-nation debate of Republican presidential candidates will feature only five contenders – Herman Cain, former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza; Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico; Ron Paul, U.S. representative from Texas; Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, and Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania.
Of that group, only Pawlenty is considered a top- or middle-tier candidate, and he polls poorly in South Carolina – at less than 2 percent in a recent Winthrop poll of likely S.C. GOP primary voters – where is his little known.
Many higher profile possible GOP candidates are taking a pass on the Upstate debate.
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Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican front-runner, is not expected to contest South Carolina, for instance.
Meanwhile, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who placed second in the state’s 2008 GOP primary, has not decided if he will run.
Also sitting out the debate are former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, yet to announce if she will run, and former House Speaker Next Gingrich.
Others – including Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman – also could join the race later.
S.C. Republican Party chairman Karen Floyd announced the line-up this morning.
"The Upstate of South Carolina has always played such a significant role in deciding the Republican nomination, and for that reason it is fitting that we begin our national debate about the future of this nation right in the heart of the Upstate," Floyd said. "We give great credit to all of these candidates for being willing to stand before a national audience and lay out their plans and ideas for the future of this country. We are looking forward to a great debate among these presidential hopefuls."
Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon will blog live from the debate here. The debate also will be televised live on Fox News Channel tomorrow evening starting at 9 p.m. Thursday.