- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The four potential 2012 Republican presidential nomination contenders now leading in the polls won’t be participating in a GOPpresidential nomination contenders’ debate in Greenville, S.C., on Thursday.

That news is not surprising in a campaign cycle in which potential candidates seem to spend more time debating with themselves over attending scheduled debates than they do debating each other.

Last month, a dearth of positive RSVPs forced the Ronald Reagan Foundation to put off its scheduled May 2 debate until Sept. 14.

The top no-shows for Thursday’s kickoff debate sponsored by Fox News are former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and hotel tycoon-TV star Donald Trump. Each place in the double digits in the polls. They lead the pack of undeclared candidates.

Mr. Romney claimed 18 percent of GOP and GOP-leaning primary voters in a Quinnipiac Poll released Wednesday, with Mrs. Palin at 15 percent, Mr. Huckabee at 14 percent and Mr. Trump at 12 percent.

The poll of 1,408 registered voters, including a smaller sample of Republicans and GOP “leaners,” was less than ego-gratifying for Mr. Trump and Mrs. Palin; 58 percent of voters sampled said they would “never” vote for either one of them. Among Republicans in the sample, 32 percent said “never” about voting for Mr. Trump, and 24 percent were that adamantly opposed to Mrs. Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee. Both are household names, however, and both have quiet admirers among some of the most politically sophisticated and successful Republicans.

Mr. Romney, ahead of all the others in organization and wealthy enough to eschew federal financing and to outspend almost all the others if necessary, and Mr. Huckabee, who defeated Mr. Romney in Iowa in the 2008 GOP caucus, are considered potentially serious contestants for the nomination both sought and lost in 2008.

But the South Carolina debate will go on without them.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, in search of donations and name recognition, plans to show up, as will former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Godfather’s Pizza former CEO Herman Cain, although not one of them has declared for the nomination. All of the above have formed exploratory committees, however, and all place in single digits in the polls.

Another no-show will be Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. His potential candidacy, like that of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, is taken seriously by GOP politicians and operatives.

The chosen venues of the undeclared and undecideds have been unpredictable in a nomination contest that is late starting by recent standards, mainly because early starts are expensive.

Mr. Gingrich, who is still debating with himself whether to announce his candidacy or his non-candidacy, gave a well-received speech last week at the annual National Rifle Association meeting in Pittsburgh. Mr. Huckabee was the event’s keynote speaker and Mr. Romney and Mr. Pawlenty sent video greetings.

Also absent from the South Carolina event will be former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr., who has formed a federal political action committee but not an exploratory one and who has the personal wealth to put together a full-scale campaign organization - hiring whatever talent hasn’t already been grabbed up - if he decides to run.

In the Quinnipiac Poll, Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Paul got 5 percent each, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Daniels each grabbed 4 percent, and Mr. Santorum, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Huntsman brought up the rear at 1 percent each.