Tonight at 8:00 p.m. the first GOP Presidential Primary Debate will take place in South Carolina hosted by Fox News & the South Carolina GOP. The debate will consist of five candidates, but only one is considered a potential mainstream contender (Governor Tim Pawlenty). The candidates participating today are:
1) Fmr. Governor Tim Pawlenty
2) Fmr. Governor Gary Johnson
3) U.S. Congressman Ron Paul
4) Fmr. Senator Rick Santorum
5) Herman Cain (CEO, Banking, Columnist, and Activist)
Most commentators have said this is Pawlenty’s debate to lose. He must present a personality that is more than just likable, but one that is also capable of exciting a base. Pawlenty benefits the most from the other top contenders being absent from this debate, so he can begin taking support from the likes of Huckabee and Romney. This debate should lead to a boost in his name recognition and support. If he fails to reach double digits in polls after this debate then he should consider himself a mainstream darkhorse and hope his numbers can crawl up to a point where he benefits from others splitting votes in the primary.
Santorum and Cain will be battling for both name recognition and the support of the conservative base. Cain will probably see the most benefits from this debate as his prior experience with banking and the private sector should lead to at least a slight boost in the polls. I would predict he gains the most Tea Party and conservative bases support following this debate. The candidacy of Santorum reminds me of Dan Quayle in 1999. Dan Quayle did have a supportive conservative base, but he was hampered by his time as Vice President. Santorum as an incumbent Senator running for reelection in 2006 lost by a staggering margin of 41% to 59%. He was in Congress (House/Senate) from 1991-2007, so he does have the advantage of saying that he has won a number of elections in the past. Cain lost the GOP nomination for senate in 2004 by garnering only 26% in that election. The discussion of Donald Trump as a candidate does provide Cain the opportunity the chance to pull some votes from him as the candidate with major private sector experience.
Ron Paul vs. Gary Johnson
What has beens said in the past about Ron Paul still remains true today and he will see NO boost in the polls no matter how many money bombs there are for him. However, Gary Johnson has the opportunity to interest Ron Paul supporters behind his candidacy. Gary Johnson is essentially the “Legalize Marijuana” candidate, but there is far more to him if he manages to just make legalization a smaller part of his candidacy. He is a libertarian candidate with executive experience as the governor of New Mexico for eight years.
My prediction for success tonight:
1) Gary Johnson
2) Herman Cain
3) Tim Pawlenty
4) Rick Santorum
5) Ron Paul