Tuesday, September 04, 2007

SC GOP: Thinning the field?

Four months from now, the bloated Republican presidential field could look a lot slimmer. That's because in part of a decision S.C. Republicans expect to make in the not-too-distant future.

Back in May, 10 GOP hopefuls attended the party's debate in Columbia. There were some good one-liners, but as in other early debates, the big field allowed little time to challenge candidates or focus on the big issues. That will change when South Carolina holds its next debate Jan. 10 in Myrtle Beach.

That debate is scheduled nine days before the state's "First in the South" primary on Jan. 19. Party officials plan to winnow the field by setting what chairman Katon Dawson calls "certain thresholds."

Those criteria most likely would entail a candidate attaining a specified level of support in state and national polls. And be assured, it would be higher than the 1% polling the party required of candidates in May. The only one excluded from that debate was Republican John Cox, Chicago businessman who sued Fox News for a place on stage. He lost.

A nationally televised debate with three or four candidates would give those candidates a welcome boost four days before the Iowa caucuses and five days before the S.C. and (as of Tuesday) Michigan primaries. By the same token, any candidate still in the "second tier" but hoping for a last-minute breakthrough would be disappointed.

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