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Opinion: Campaign 2012: A new face at the GOP debate

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Republican presidential candidates are scheduled to hold another debate Thursday evening in Orlando, Fla., with a new face on hand. No, it’s not Sarah Palin, although she may turn up at a future contest. This time it’s former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson -- not exactly a game-changing entry but certainly an interesting one.

Johnson has been in the race throughout, but organizers of the previous debates deemed him too minor a candidate to include. His campaign stresses his record as a tax-cutting, veto-wielding, government-shrinking, job-creating conservative. What separates him from most of the others in the field, though, is his libertarian streak, including his support for legalizing (and taxing) marijuana, for gay rights and for abortion rights ‘until the point of viability of a fetus.’

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He’ll be lucky to get much airtime, though. Most of his fellow candidates almost certainly will be focusing on Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who holds the (very) early lead in Florida. Given the demographics of that state, it’s a safe bet that Perry’s views on Social Security, Medicare and Israel will get a thorough airing.

(Like Perry, Johnson has said Social Security needs to be fixed to assure benefits for future generations of workers. Unlike Perry, Johnson has offered a proposal for doing so: slowing the rate of benefit growth.)

The real wild card in the debate is Google, which is co-sponsoring the event with Fox News. Google invited the public to submit questions for the candidates via YouTube; a similar effort during the 2008 campaign produced some refreshing and challenging inquiries. Here’s hoping for more of the same Thursday night.

My colleague Doyle McManus in Washington and I will again tweet a steady stream of punditry about the debate as it happens. Tune in to The Times’ home page or opinion.latimes.com for our commentary about the debate, which is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Pacific.

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-- Jon Healey


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