Short on Big Names, GOP Debaters Will Vie to Stand Out in S.C.

By Scott Conroy - May 4, 2011

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With the bin Laden news looming large over the debate, its focus appears likely to shift at least somewhat toward foreign affairs, where the Republican contenders may feel compelled to be more deferential to Obama than they would have before Sunday. Still, the longstanding competition among the likely candidates to land the most resonating blows against the president on the domestic front is unlikely to subside.

"For the president to be able to make that decision knowing what happened to Jimmy Carter when his mission went wrong was courageous, so everybody should congratulate the president because he's commander-in-chief," McAlister said. "However, that does not erase the debt, the recession, the unemployment, the dangerous economy that we're in. At the end of the line, it's still going to be the economy that elects the next president one way or another."

Despite the lack of marquee names, reflecting the slower than expected start to the official campaign, the political class in the first-in-the-South primary state will be tuned in and hopeful that the rest of the country will at least take a passing glance.

The South Carolina GOP is holding its state convention in Columbia on Friday and Saturday, and CNN reported that party officials will conduct a presidential straw poll at a fundraising banquet planned in conjunction with the events.

Debate organizers are putting on a brave face and are heartened by the expectation of a full house Thursday night at the venue, the Peace Center for the Performing Arts.

"We knew going in that this debate was going to represent a snapshot of the field at that time," South Carolina Republican Party Executive Director Joel Sawyer said. "We're tremendously excited about the response that we've received from people interested in attending, and we're looking forward to a great event on Thursday."

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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