Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain may be in Greenville on Thursday, but Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump probably won't.
In fact, the GOP presidential debate billed as the "first in the South" might lack most of the current favorites among Palmetto State Republicans.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who placed first in last month's Winthrop Poll of state Republican voters, has let it be known via a website that he won't be there.
Matt Rhoades, a top Romney adviser, was quoted on the mittromneycentral.com saying Romney was passing over the debate "because it's still early, the field is too unsettled and he's not yet an announced candidate."
S.C. GOP Executive Director Joel Sawyer said Monday he expects the field to include at least five candidates.
They include: Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who likely has campaigned more in South Carolina than any other candidate so far; Paul, a congressman from Texas who ran in 2008; Cain, a former CEO of Godfather's Pizza; Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor; and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.
Sawyer declined to speculate how the list of participants might grow or change between now and Thursday night.
The GOP presidential candidates who have received the most talk and media attention, such as Trump, the New York celebrity and developer, haven't announced that they're actually going to run.
The Winthrop Poll placed Romney and Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, at the top, with about 17 percent each. Trump, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, also polled at 8 percent or above.
Retired California political consultant Fred Karger, who bills himself as the first openly gay presidential candidate, has been trying to qualify for the GOP debate, which involves paying the state party its $25,000 filing fee and scoring at least 1 percent in a presidential poll.
The South Carolina Republican Party, which is sponsoring the debate along with FOX News, has set a deadline of 5 p.m. today to qualify for the debate, Sawyer said, adding, "We'll be making a final announcement Wednesday morning."
Gary Johnson, former New Mexico governor
Exploratory Committee formed
--Herman Cain, businessman
--Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House
--Ron Paul, Texas representative
--Tim Pawlenty, former Minnesota governor
--Mitt Romney, former Mass. governor
--Rick Santorum, former Pa. U.S. Senator
--Michele Bachman, U.S. Rep, Minnesota
--Mitch Daniels, Indiana governor
--Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor
--Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor
--Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor
--Donald Trump, real estate magnate
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.