South Carolina to host one GOP presidential primary debate in 2016, with CBS News

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (left) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were among the candidates who took part in a Republican presidential candidate debate at the North Charleston Coliseum in January 2012.

South Carolina will host only one Republican presidential primary debate in 2016, as party leaders try to reduce the number of face-to-face confrontations that damaged the GOP brand in 2012.

State and national party officials announced Friday that South Carolina’s single debate will be held in February 2016, aired by CBS News.

The time, city and setting has not been determined.

Friday’s announcement came after Republican leaders made it clear months ago that they were going to cut down the number of televised debates, saying the repeated on-stage feuding seen in 2012 damaged the party message versus President Barack Obama.

For example, Newt Gingrich went hard after Mitt Romney’s business ties and Bain Capital during a January 2012 debate in Myrtle Beach.

“I don’t think raising questions is a prerogative only of Barack Obama,” Gingrich said during the debate. “I raised questions that I think are legitimate questions, some of which came straight out of Wall Street Journal articles. ... That’s part of what a campaign is about, raising questions.”

Potentially, there could be less than a dozen debates for the whole 2016 cycle, instead of the 23 held last time.

South Carolina was a huge benefactor of the 2012 debate schedule, hosting four televised events, leading to an almost $50 million positive impact on the state’s economy, a recent GOP/University of South Carolina study found.

“We would love to host more than one debate, but in 2012, the frequent debates eventually became damaging to the candidates and nominee,” S.C. GOP Chairman Matt Moore said.

Friday’s announcement was made by the S.C. GOP and the Republican National Committee, which is holding its winter meeting in San Diego.

The date of South Carolina’s GOP primary also hasn’t been set, but officials say it will be in mid-February, following the caucus vote in Iowa and New Hampshire primary.

“South Carolina has played an important role in picking America’s president since 1980,” Moore added. “After much hard work to secure the 2016 primary, we can’t wait to continue that tradition.” Further details will be announced later this year.

The S.C. GOP and CBS last partnered for a presidential debate in November 2011, at Wofford College in Spartanburg.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.