South Carolina Republican Presidential Debate Tonight

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- The first live South Carolina GOP Presidential Primary Debate with all five remaining candidates: Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich, will air on Fox News tonight at 9 p.m. E.S.T.  (The Associated Press is reporting that Jon Huntsman will announce his withdrawal from the race later today).
This will be the first debate where Mitt Romney will have the opportunity to go after Newt Gingrich for the negative ad campaign which was sponsored by Gingrich's Super PAC (and jokingly, Stephen Colbert's Super PAC).  

South Carolina is seen as Gingrich's arena to unleash revenge against Romney after Romney's Super PAC ran negative attack ads in Iowa and New Hampshire against Gingrich.  

The negative attacks by both candidates are completely in line with the history of American politics going back to the Founding Fathers.  American politics, for the most part, has consisted of grown men acting like mean girls in high school.

Viewers can look forward to a lively discussion regarding Romney's role at Bain Capital, and whether he actually created jobs as he claimed on the campaign trail.  Gingrich's Super PAC went so far as to put together a 28 minute movie titled "King of Bain" that claims Romney was actually a job killer rather than a job creator.

The curve ball that everyone will watch for in the debate is whether Romney puts his foot in his mouth with another remark like "I like to fire people" or make a $10,000 bet to one of the other candidates. 

Paul, once trailing in fourth place behind Santorum in the polls, has recently surged to a 20% third place in South Carolina.  However, Paul's lack of campaigning this last week in the Palmetto State could come back to haunt him.  It will be interesting to see whether first place Romney and second place Gingrich go after Paul, or instead concentrate on each other with the eye on the ultimate first place in South Carolina - Election Day.

With the exception of Romney and Paul, the other four GOP candidates suffered a critical blow just days before the debate when a U.S. District Court judge ruled that only Romney and Paul would be on the Virginia Republican Primary ballot.   The ruling could become a debate issue.  Where it can be alleged that a candidate for President of the United States should have had more planning and execution to qualify to be placed on a state's ballot.

The South Carolina debates are make-or-break for Santorum and Perry.  Santorum has to stop his double-digit free fall in the South Carolina polls this last week.  Perry has to convince South Carolina social conservatives to rally around him rather than Gingrich or Santorum.  Perry's debate performances have improved drastically over the last two debates since his early blunders in Iowa.

One edge that former U.S. Air Force pilot Perry has over Gingrich and Santorum is that South Carolina has a large number veterans.  Look for Perry to highlight his military service and the lack of military service of the other candidates (except for Paul who was a U.S.A.F. flight surgeon).  

One thing viewers will probably not see during tonight's debate - Romney speaking French after Gingrich highlighted a French-speaking similarity between Romney and John Kerry.

Jon Huntsman's withdrawal from the race will probably have more of an impact by allowing the remaining candidates more debate time than any meaningful shift in voters.
According to a Public Policy Poll conducted January 11-13, 2012, South Carolina Jon Huntsman voters' second choice for the GOP nomination are as follows:

32% Buddy Roemer 

12% Mitt Romney

11% Ron Paul

3% or less: Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum

So assuming Jon Huntsman still had 5% of the South Carolina vote when he dropped out of the race, the poll results would indicate a bump of 1.6 percentage points to Roemer, 0.6 to Romney, and 0.55 to Paul.


RELATED STORIES: Santorum Wins South Carolina Republican Debate

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