05/05/2011 05:10 pm ET Updated Jul 05, 2011

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

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.

05/05/2011 10:43 PM EDT

'Never Had This Kind Of Reaction'

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.”


05/05/2011 10:42 PM EDT

Think Pawlenty Didn't Get Swamped?

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.)

05/05/2011 10:33 PM EDT

Absent Candidates

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.)

05/05/2011 10:31 PM EDT

WATCH: Paul's Afghanistan Response Draws Cheers

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.

05/05/2011 10:23 PM EDT

My Favorite Incomprehensible Tweet Of The Night

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!

05/05/2011 10:22 PM EDT

A Debate Without Reagan, Enlivened by Johnson

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 $$."

05/05/2011 10:21 PM EDT

Chris Wallace Points Out Your Problems

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?"

05/05/2011 10:11 PM EDT

Tim Pawlenty Addresses 'Mistake'

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.

05/05/2011 10:06 PM EDT

DNC Waits Forty-Four Minutes Before Issuing Rapid Response

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.

05/05/2011 10:02 PM EDT

Gay Marriage/Social Issues

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.