“The first Republican debate of the 2012 presidential race could be defined by who wasn’t there,” The Hill writes. “Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will be the biggest name attending Thursday night’s gathering in South Carolina, and even he is unknown to most voters.”
“With the strongest possible contenders holding back — not just from debating, but also from gearing up their campaign operations — a queasiness is setting in among Republicans about whether their field will be strong enough to produce a standard-bearer who can beat an incumbent,” the Washington Post’s Tumulty writes.
The New York Times front-pages that Huckabee, Gingrich, and Bachmann are the seeking the advice of Christian (self-taught) historian David Barton.
DANIELS: How many GOP primary voters knew Mitch Daniels was of Syrian ancestry? “Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) said the increased notoriety from speculation he may run for president has helped him reconnect with his Syrian ancestors,” The Hill says. “Daniels, whose paternal grandparents emigrated from Syria to Western Pennsylvania, said the new connections have also deepened his concern for the country's people. While accepting an award for public service Wednesday from the Arab American Institute at a dinner in Washington, Daniels told the audience how speculation he may seek the GOP's 2012 White House nomination was covered in the Syrian press, which prompted two people to contact him.”
In an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. yesterday, Mitch Daniels called it a “happy surprise” that the opportunity for him to run for president still existed relatively late in the decision-making process, the Washington Post’s Cillizza writes. “I really thought that by April 29....it might become too late somewhere along the line but for whatever reason it appears not to be. … “We won’t take long,” Daniels said. “I said we were going to do our duty, finish this session and then we’d turn our attention to it. And now we are.”
Politico’s Martin: “Mitch Daniels hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll run for president, but his Wednesday appearance at the American Enterprise Institute sure had all the makings of a campaign-in-waiting... The only thing missing: the candidate."
GINGRICH: Newt Gingrich’s spokesman tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Gingrich will be a candidate next week. “Gingrich is scheduled to speak to Georgia Republicans at their state meeting on Friday, May 13,” the AJC writes. “By the time Newt speaks to the Georgia convention, he’ll be a candidate,” said spokesman Rick Tyler. Gingrich has opened campaign headquarters in Atlanta in advance of his expected entry into the race next week, the AP writes.
He will give the commencement address at Ronald Reagan’s alma mater, Eureka College in Illinois, on May 14, the AP reports.
HUNTSMAN: Huntsman will meet with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Friday, the AP reports.
PALIN: Palin slammed President Obama’s decision not to release a photo of Osama bin Laden’s corpse, tweeting that he should “show the photos as a warning to others seeking America’s destruction… No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama; it’s part of the mission,” The State Column notes.
PAWLENTY: Tim Pawlenty told a crowd in Urbandale, IA that unlike the other candidates, he has a history that proves he can bring about conservative change, the Des Moines Register writes. “‘Don’t just look at the words,’ he told about 130 people – a record turnout – at a Westside Conservative Club meeting… ‘Look at the person, and say, ‘Does this person’s life and record demonstrate the fortitude that they’re actually going to do it?’ Because we’re sick of speeches and I’m sick of, and I hope you are too, of politicians flapping their jaws.’”
The benefits of being the only top-tier candidate in the presidential debate today are that Tim Pawlenty has “a chance to show Republican primary voters that he’s prepared to cast the first stone against President Barack Obama – setting him apart from a larger group of viable presidential candidates who have shied away from fully engaging the campaign,” Politico observes.
ROMNEY: Romney leads the field in New Hampshire. A new WMUR/University of New Hampshire poll shows Romney with 36%, followed by… Donald Trump with 11%. Rudy Giuliani gets 7%, Mike Huckabee 6%, Ron Paul 6%, Sarah Palin 4%, Newt Gingrich 4%, Michele Bachmann 4%, Pawlenty 2%, Daniels 2%.
The Atlantic’s Joshua Green writes in The Boston Globe that the best thing Mitt Romney can do to promote himself right now is nothing: “In a field as weak as the current one, Romney can win without really exciting anybody. The key is for him to wait patiently until the noisier contenders burn themselves out like Roman candles and the conservative mood shifts from eager anticipation to concern to desperation. This process is already underway.”
TRUMP: Donald Trump will appear at a Tea Party meeting on May 19th at the South Carolina State House, The State reports.