Yesterday Mitt Romney confirmed that he will skip the first GOP presidential debate scheduled for this Thursday in Greenville, South Carolina. Romney's decision is the latest delaying tactic among prominent 2012ers, with each of the major candidates holding off on making the full commitment to a presidential run. Only four candidates -- Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain -- are slotted to participate in Thursday's debate, according to The Wall Street Journal. Compare that to the first Republican debate in 2007, in which 10 GOP candidates, including Romney and eventual nominee John McCain, shared the stage.
The slow start may cause little damage for each individual candidate, but it leaves the Republican Party in a weakened position for the 2012 general election. Beyond selecting the candidate at the top of the ticket, the presidential primary process serves as an organizing force for parties; it rallies the base, raises the profile of the party's young politicians, and provides experience for future political operatives. Most concerning for the national and state Republican chapters is that the primary process is an important fundraising opportunity. The South Carolina Republican Party scheduled the debate to coincide with the state convention in an effort to attract high profile politicians to boost their fundraising efforts. Per CNN:
Each of the debate participants are being invited to speak at the Silver Elephant Banquet in Columbia on Friday night, the state party's biggest fundraiser of the year.
Party officials plan to conduct a 2012 presidential straw poll at the banquet on Friday evening, GOP sources told CNN. The results will be revealed during convention proceedings on Saturday.
With no Romney, Palin or Huckabee on stage, fewer rank and file Republicans will attend the banquet, depriving the state party's coffers of additional funds. The political functions in the early primary states will draw smaller crowds alongside smaller donations until the major candidates announce official bids rather just exploratory campaigns.