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Most GOP heavyweights skipping South Carolina debate

WASHINGTON — The field for the first GOP presidential debate of the 2012 election is now set, and it’s a group of five more notable for who’s not in than who actually committed.

The oft-cited frontrunner, Mitt Romney, won’t be there. Neither will former Speaker Newt Gingrich. And a whole host of presidential maybes, from Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Donald Trump to Mike Huckabee, Jon Huntsman and Mitch Daniels, decided the debate wasn’t worth its requirement to commit to a run just yet.

This all despite increased calls over the last week, primarily from Pawlenty, for prospective candidates to begin the race in earnest now. “We’ve got to get off the sideline.” Pawlenty said in a Tuesday interview with Radio Iowa. “We’ve got big challenges and it requires a big challenge and, you know, I think the time to engage President Obama is now.”

So the field of five at the debate will be:

  • Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota;
  • Herman Cain, a talk radio host and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza;
  • Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico;
  • Ron Paul, congressman from Texas; and
  • Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania.

Pawlenty is frequently cited as having one of the best presidential organizations so far, though he hasn’t really budged from the low single digits in national presidential polls so far. A Fox News survey conducted last week put Pawlenty at just 3 percent support nationally. Paul carries with him a small but very motivated band of followers — he was at 7 percent in that same survey, highest among the five listed candidates.

GOP strategists like South Carolina’s Bob McAlister were underwhelmed by the lineup.

“It’s like a beauty contest where all the women are ugly,” McAlister told Real Clear Politics. “It’s just mind-boggling that we’re this far along in the political silly season and there’s no one of major stature that appears to be interested so far.”

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