by Dan Gibson
I really had no idea there was a Republican presidential debate last night, but if any of these guys are actually in the race against Obama on election day 2012, I'd be stunned.
The debate had all the pomp of a nationally televised forum, but the dearth of contestants and the lack of big names illustrated how tentative the Republican race remains.
Joining Messrs. Santorum and Pawlenty were former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
In the aftermath of the successful hunt for bin Laden, the candidates were asked if they supported enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. The audience at the Peace Center Hall applauded wildly when all the candidates except Mr. Paul and Mr. Johnson raised their hands.
The candidates showed disparities on foreign policy. Mr. Johnson, a libertarian, said the U.S. should pull out of Afghanistan "tomorrow." Mr. Cain, an Atlanta-based radio personality, said it remained unclear why the U.S. was still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Santorum both argued for a more muscular stance overseas, particularly toward Iran and Libya.
The five also showed wide differences on social issues, with the two libertarians on the stage, Mr. Paul and Mr. Johnson, arguing that the government shouldn't interfere in personal decisions on drug use or gay marriage. Mr. Paul got laughs and applause when, speaking in one of the most conservative corners of the state, he defended the right to use heroin.
For a variety of reasons, many of the most recognized figures eyeing a 2012 run didn't show up in Greenville, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Of those who did take the stage, none has garnered more than 10% support in any recent poll. Those who joined the debate, co-sponsored by the state GOP and Fox News, stood to benefit most simply from being seen on national television.