Huffpost Politics

South Carolina Debate: News & Updates From The First GOP Presidential Forum

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GREENVILLE, S.C. -- The 2012 election season begins Thursday in earnest with the Republican Party’s first presidential primary debate here at 9 p.m. ET.

But only five GOP hopefuls are taking part, as some hang back and wait to fully engage (like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman) while others have yet to commit to a bid for the Oval Office (see former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and current Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels).

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is the biggest name taking part at Peace Center for the Performing Arts, though Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) certainly has the most enthusiastic fanbase. Others hitting the stage include former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, and former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain.

Prior to the debate, the South Carolina Greenville Tea Party held a lengthy rally a few blocks away. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) spoke at the event. She said Republican candidates not participating in tonights debate have "some extra work to do” with voters in her state.

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HuffPost's Sam Stein:

Conservative messaging guru Frank Luntz polls crowds after big events for their instantaneous reaction. And in the case of the GOP presidential debate, the results were pretty remarkable (even though the whole thing is entirely unscientific).

The crowd of roughly 30 unanimously said that pizza magnate Herman Cain won the debate. Only one of them went into the evening supporting Cain. A clear majority -- citing his “straight talk” on the economy and his capacity to criticize the president -- said they would now support his presidential campaign.

“I have never had this kind of reaction until tonight,” said Luntz. “Something very special happened this evening.”

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins:

Let me summarize the final statements. Santorum: "I've led. I've led. I've led." Cain: "I've been dropping great rhetorical bombs all over this hall." Paul: "I've got a room full of hellions, who've stuck with me for years because I don't waver." Johnson: "I'm an entrepeneur who knows fiscal discipline; we can do this."

Pawlenty: I have a campaign slogan and a website.

(To be fair: Johnson got in a plug for his website.)

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

Cain is asked why he no longer supports Romney. "He didn't win, so I'm taking my time." Pawlenty is asked if he's "out of business" if Huckabee gets into the race; Pawlenty says no. Does Ron Paul, as a Tea Party favorite, feel eclipsed by Michele Bachmann? "She's not here tonight, so I don't think so," quips Paul. Santorum is asked if he has a problem with Newt Gingrich's "past personal behavior." He says that "everyone makes mistakes," but it shouldn't "inhibit them from being able to stand up for the truth." Johnson is asked, "If he had a reality teevee show like Donald Trump, what would it be?" He would "spread the notion of doing physical activity" and staying healthy. (Johnson has run 30 marathons and climbed Mount Everest.)

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HuffPost's Amanda Terkel reports:

With the death of Osama bin Laden dominating the news cycle and captivating the public this week, the five Republican presidential hopefuls who showed in South Carolina Thursday for the Fox News debate were asked to explain their position on the war in Afghanistan.

While foreign policy barely popped up during the 2010 elections, and pundits widely predict the struggling economy will once again dominate in 2012, bin Laden's death has put Afghanistan on the front burner and forced candidates explain their stance on the decades-long war.

While many have called to reassess the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan in light of bin Laden's shooting deep within Pakistan, the White House said on Thursday that it will not be changing its policy on the war.

Click here to read more about where the debate participants signaled they stand on the issue.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

It comes from @HVeinott, who says, "Wish Gary Johnson wasn't pro-choice, I'm loving his answers tonight."

All of the "answers" you "love" are rooted in the same philosophical principles that make him pro-choice!

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

Is it possible to get through a GOP debate without genuflections to the Gipper? Fred Karger is baffled: "Where's Reagan? One mention?"

He does have a favorite so far: "Liking Gary Johnson. If I can't be up there, glad he is. Yeah, let's legalize marijuana. Tax it and let the government make $$."

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

Wallace announces that he will ask each candidate about an issue that could pose a "problem for you down the line."

Pawlenty: He used to like cap and trade! Wallace runs an ad, in which Pawlenty speaks favorably about it. The audience boos. That did Pawlenty no favors. Pawlenty previously called his support for cap and trade a "stupid decision." But now he says he "studied it," and concluded that it's a "bad idea." It's a "clunker," a "mistake." If anybody's "perfect," he says, "stand up here at this podium."

Santorum: He said that women work outside the home because of radical feminism. Does he stand by that? He says that what he meant is that "we should be affirming women's choices" no matter what they chose to do. Career-wise! This whole "affirming women and their choices" obviously does not apply to abortion.

Paul: He supports heroin legalization, and gay marriage, so why should conservatives vote for him? Because he is a defender of liberty, for everyone, and surely people can understand that. His explanation gets applause. Wallace says, "I never though heroin would get applause in South Carolina.

Johnson: "Half of what he spend on courts and prisons in America is drug related, and to what end? I would ask people to look at the issue and see if they don't come to the same conclusion I did, which is that" it's mostly "prohibition related crimes" and not "use related."

Cain: Why does he believe he has a chance to win the nomination, let alone the Presidency? Cain says that the American people will be drawn to those who project "leadership strength," and says he's proud of not having a lot of experience in government. Citing the plethora of people in government who have experience in government (I know), he asks, "How is that working out for you?"

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Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty addressed his past support for cap-and-trade legislation on Thursday night. He called his former position on the issue "a mistake," as he has done in the past, and suggested that anyone in his position has some "clunkers" in his or her closet.

However, Pawlenty appears not to be the only potential GOP presidential candidate who's switched positions on an environmental issue. TIME's Michael Scherer reported:

...[Jon] Huntsman is far from the only 2012 GOP contender who will have to explain past support for confronting climate change on the campaign trail. In point of fact, carbon regulation was not so verboten in the GOP just a few years ago. Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich all have supported efforts to combat climate change. "I also support cap and trade of carbon emissions," Mike Huckabee declared in 2007, while campaigning in New Hampshire. In the same year, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin set up a "Climate Change Sub-Cabinet" to deal with the problem in her state.

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HuffPost's Sam Stein reports:

The Democratic National Committee waited until 9:44 p.m. ET to put out its first piece of rapid response research on the first GOP presidential debate, which started at 9:00 ET.

Since then, the committee has emailed reporters three such memos, each of them on former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty: the first for his answer on health care reform, the next for his handling of Minnesota’s budget deficit, and the final one on his decision to pass on criticizing former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for his own health care law (despite having done just that in the past).

As for why it took the DNC so long to start its rapid response operation, an official there notes that a large chunk of the early portion was spent on foreign policy – a more sensitive topic, certainly this week, to make into a partisan food fight.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

Ron Paul: "Government should get out of it...I have my standards, but I shouldn't be allowed to impose my standards on other people." But Paul criticized the White House's decision to not defend DOMA! Paul says that DOMA was designed to allow the states to make up their own minds on the matter.

Cain: Supports DOMA, believes the Obama administration is violating his oath by not defending it.

Johnson: Is pro-choice (boos rain down) but supports parental notification, a ban on federal funds for abortion. Acknowledges that he's not going to get as many votes as he could in the primary season because of that stance, but believes he would fare well in the general election.

Pawlenty: Supports the use/study of stem cell research, adult derived only.

Santorum, on Mitch Daniels' "social truce": "Anyone who thinks there should be a social truce doesn't understand what America is all about." It's his firmest statement, and his most energized answer of the night.

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@ rickklein : Gov. Johnson: "I support a woman's right to choose up to viability." thusly goes viability of a candidacy in a Republican primary, no?

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HuffPost's Jon Ward reports:

Pawlenty's campaign sent out a video clip and transcript of his answer on interrogation techniques.

Chris: I want to follow up with you governor Pawlenty. You mentioned out in your first answer. We heard a different opinion from congressman Paul. There is a renewed debate about enhanced interrogation in the aftermath of the taking out of Osama Bin Laden. Two years ago, you would not endorse waterboarding of high value detainees. You said, I think clearly wehave to weigh the benefits of the information against the damage it causes not only to the individual, but to our values, more broadly. Since then governor, have you decided where you stand on waterboarding?

Gov. Pawlenty: I believe my position hasn't changed. I've been all over the Middle East, I’ve been to Iraq five times. I've been to Afghanistan three times. I've been to many other countries in the Mideast, Turkey, Kuwait, Jordan, Israel and others. As to your previous point there is a group of individuals who are radical jihadists we need to call them by name. They believe it is okay to kill people in the name of their religion. It is not all of Islam. It is not all Muslims. But there is a subgroup who believe it is okay. In fact it is their plan and design to kill people. The first order of business of the United States federal government is to protect this country and the American people. The people and the mindset that killed 3,000 of our fellow citizens on September 11th, 2001 would have kill not 3,000, but 300,000 if they could have or three million or 30 million. We need to do everything we can to make sure that doesn't I support enhanced interrogation techniques under limited circumstances.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

Rick Santorum may be putting Fred Karger to sleep, but he says that Ron Paul and Gary Johnson are adding value to the debate by opening it up:

This debate needs a little excitement. Like the issue diversity, however. Two Libertarians are better than one.

Johnson was the first to complain about not getting enough questions.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

My Tweetdeck is getting throttled to death by all the activity from twitter users sharing their opinions about the debate, but here are some impressions:

--Paul scored with his tort reform answer. --Herman Cain's public speaking persona is a huge hit.

--Viewers at home would really like the Fox moderators to reinforce the rule about holding applause.

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HuffPost's Jon Ward reports from Greenville:

Tim Pawlenty was quick tonight to mention an issue that he knows South Carolina conservatives are fired up about, attacking the National Labor Relations Board for filing a complaint against Boeing for moving from Washington to South Carolina to avoid union strikes.

Pawlenty called it "a whole new line that this administration has crossed."

This issue is also a favorite of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's. She mentioned it repeatedly at a Tea Party earlier today.

However, Boeing has benefited from government connections and taxpayer dollars. The company is now hampered somewhat in arguing for a free market, having received billion in loan guarantees from the U.S. Export-Import Bank over the last two years, as the Washington Examiner's Tim Carney has pointed out.

In addition, Boeing has already built and is operating the plant here in the Palmetto State, and state legislators told me that the NRLB's complaint is likely meant as a message or signal to other companies, possibly to try to keep them from moving to states with fewer labor-friendly laws and regulations. South Carolina is a right to work state.

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HuffPost's Sam Stein:

Fox News, clearly smarting from the fact that a good chunk of the potential GOP presidential field has not shown up for its debate, promises to trash those individuals in the next round.

"We'll ask the candidates about the potential candidates that are not here," host Bret Baier says, as the network goes to its first commercial break.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins:

I don't know how well Santorum is playing in the hall -- the cheers for Paul and Cain have been deep and sustained, and TPaw took home a big ovation over his jobs answer -- but the former Pennsylvania Senator isn't impressing our man in the upper decks, Fred Karger: "Santorum just put me to sleep, sorry."

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins:

Shannon Bream serves up a chance for Pawlenty to hit the absent Romney on health care reform, but Pawlenty won't bite, instead training his ire on the Affordable Care Act. Outside of that minor dispute between TPaw and Ron Paul over torture, there's no internecine sparring happening here.

Candidates are trying to outdo each other at hitting the White House.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins:

Does Pawlenty have any ideas how to stimulate job growth, beyond cutting taxes? He says he will have sympathy for the jobless. Also, he will object to a single objection by the National Labor Relations Board that's affecting South Carolina. That plays well with the crowd, but it doesn't really answer the question, outside of the narrow, local issue.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

Another hand-raise question. Would you support waterboarding under any circumstances? Cain, Santorum, and Pawlenty say yes. Johnson and Paul says no. Cain says anything goes when it comes to protecting Americans. Paul objects to the contention that it works, and briefly dusts up with TPaw.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

"...not characteristic of a government that believes in prisons," Paul says, coming out in favor of trying terrorists in civilian courts. "We should treat people the way we think we might be treated under dire circumstances." Suggests that the lack of habeas corpus in any case is a danger to all.

The Paul supporters, by the way, are out in force. Big cheers after he finishes speaking.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

Man, when the moderators of debates tell candidates to stop talking, because their time has run out, usually they blather on and on. Not Herman Cain. When the bell rang (and they are using a bell...says Fred Karger, "It's like Jeopardy."), Cain stopped on a dime. Gary Johnson followed suit one question later. Rules are being respected!

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

Open With Osama

First question to Pawlenty

Does Obama still look weak, now that he's capped Osama bin Laden?

Pawlenty congratulates Obama for the operation. Gives him a tip of the hat. Then comes a wag of the finger: if torture led to Osama's death, he should explain why he opposed torture.

All but Herman Cain indicate that they would put out a photo of dead Osama.

Rick Santorum says that all of Obama's good foreign policy decisions were continuations of Bush policies. Says Obama "sided with the mullahs, instead of the demonstrators," in Iran.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

Fred Karger's in the building, but he's wedged up in the nosebleeds:

They sold me two tickets in the upper, upper balcony. Guess they wanted to keep me as far away as possible from the stage. Should have brought binoculars.

He reports that the event is packed with local political swells, including one dude who is not currently hiking the Appalachain Trail:

All the national and state GOP brass is here, including ex-Governor Mark Sanford.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

Bloomberg Businessweek's Caroline Baum isn't too bullish on tonight's field of candidates, and insists that the candidate who the voters are looking for one be appearing on the stage tonight. That candidate? "Generic Republican."

A subset of the wild and woolly field of potential Republican presidential candidates will meet for the first time this evening in a debate sponsored by Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party.

None stands a chance of beating President Barack Obama in 2012, according to public opinion polls. The only one who comes close is someone who’s not running: Generic Republican.

The GOP field offers everything but, from far right-wingers to party-identity-challenged wild cards to family-values conservatives whose values would offend most families.

If Obama is as vulnerable as the polls suggest, a result of soaring gas prices, high unemployment and a growing sense the country is on the wrong track, you’d think the Republican Party could find someone generic to fit the bill.

Read the whole thing.

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HuffPost's Jon Ward reports:

GREENVILLE – The mood here among some South Carolina Republicans about 2012 is a bit despondent. I spent time at a local restaurant before the debate with a handful of state legislators and Republican consultants involved in the Columbia political scene. They were less than thrilled about tonight’s debate and the current crop of GOP candidates for the party’s presidential nomination. One said that if they could combine Newt Gingrich’s ideas, Haley Barbour’s wit and Rick Santorum’s age then they would have a great candidate. The appetite was overwhelmingly for someone who is not yet on the scene. But they didn’t really even seem to have anyone in mind as a potential dark horse. Even the casual observers walking around the downtown area this evening are paying scant attention to the city’s main attraction.

“Isn’t it a little early for the first debate?” one woman remarked to another as they walked to dinner.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

Fred Karger, a longtime GOP consultant who's running a long-shot campaign, won't be able to participate in tonight's debate, owing to the fact that the debate organizers have deemed it necessary for all participants to have hit the 1% mark in at least five national polls in order to do so, and Karger's only been named as a candidate in one poll all year (he hit 1%). But he's unbowed! And, as best as he is able, will be sending us periodic updates through the night about what he would have said if he had been allowed to join the debate. Should be exciting!

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Ahead of Thursday night's debate, the South Carolina Democratic Party took aim at Republicans over the field of GOP presidential aspirants taking part in the forum.

The state party released an ad titled "numbers" to air state wide and asserted that no "'major' GOP contenders are appearing at the debate in Greenville tonight."

Democrats are welcoming the GOP presidential debate with an ad highlighting the GOP’s 10-year record of failure in South Carolina.

South Carolina Democratic Party Chair, Dick Harpootlian said:

"The Republican record is clear. Ten-percent unemployment. Broken schools. No jobs plan. Over the last ten years, Republicans have succeeded in turning South Carolina into a third-world country.

The only candidates Republicans can get to show up for their debate tonight are a bunch of no-names and crazies. The rest of them are staying away because they don't want the rest of the country to know that a decade of Republican rule has ruined South Carolina."

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HuffPost's Jon Ward reports from South Carolina:

Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, one of several longshot candidates, paid the ,000 fee but was still rejected by Fox News and the South Carolina GOP because he had not registered 1 percent approval in recent polls.

Roemer spokesman Aaron Walker told The Huffington Post his boss "would like to try and get [the ,000] back."

"If there's a filing fee to be on the S.C. ballot, he'll pay it at a later date," Walker said.

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HuffPost's Jon Ward reports from South Carolina:

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson said ahead of the debate tonight that the U.S. should get out of Afghanistan now that Osama bin Laden is dead. He also went out of his way to challenge Tea Party views on immigration.

[...]

Johnson went out of his way to challenge attitudes widely held by conservatives on immigration -- including objecting to closing the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I think that immigration ultimately is a good thing,” he said, arguing that the U.S. should “make it as easy as possible for an individual that wants to come into this country to get a work visa ... so that applicable taxes would get paid.”

Read more here.

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As GOP '12 Hopefuls Prepare to Debate, President Obama Heads to Ground Zero

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