South Carolina presidential debate still on, with or without candidates

The first debate of the 2012 Republican presidential primary contest appears set to go forward Thursday – even if there is just one major candidate on stage.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is the only top-tier candidate expected to participate in the forum at the Peace Center in Greenville, S.C.

Fox News, which is producing the debate with the South Carolina Republican Party, said the other anticipated participants were former Sen. Rick Santorum, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, restaurant executive Herman Cain and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.

Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, who was originally expected to be included, will not meet Fox News’ requirement of garnering at least 1% in the most five recent national polls, said Michael Clemente, senior vice president of news for the cable news channel.


Other Republicans considered likely or possible contenders in 2012 have opted not to participate, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Ambassador Jon Huntsman, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

“Our job is not to marshal the field but to ask the tough questions of those who do get in the race,” Clemente said in a statement. “This is the first of our five debates, and I’m sure we’ll be able to kick-start the conversation about who will be the next president of the United States.”

Fox News laid out strict criteria to qualify for the debate, including requiring candidates to register exploratory committees or to have announced a formal presidential campaign, to file all necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission and pay all federal and South Carolina filing fees.

That amounts to $25,000 per candidate in South Carolina, due to the party by 5 p.m. Tuesday. It’s unclear who, if anyone, has yet paid. Party spokesman Joel Sawyer declined to say, adding that the information would be released Wednesday.

And as of midday Tuesday, neither Santorum nor Cain had registered an exploratory committee or filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission. Clemente said he expected both to do so by the end of the day.

The debate is set to air at 6 p.m. PDT/ 9 p.m. EDT on Fox News Thursday.

Though candidates are cool to the event, state party activists are not. The South Carolina GOP says that the event is “at capacity.”