The Southern Republican Leadership Conference/CNN Presidential Town Hall debate Thursday at the North Charleston Coliseum is not open to the general or walk-in public.

Seating is by invitation only, from either one of the two groups. About 2,500 people will be seated for the event, based on the configuration for the nationally televised broadcast.

The debate will air from 8-10 p.m. All five of the candidates are expected to attend.

Romney leads poll

Mitt Romney has a clear lead in Saturday's primary, according to the Monmouth University Poll released Tuesday.

The former Massachusetts governor registers 33 percent support among likely Republican voters in Saturday's primary. Following him are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 22 percent; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, 14 percent; Texas Rep. Ron Paul, 12 percent; and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, 6 percent.

Evangelical Christians, which make up a majority of likely GOP voters, have been considered a weak group for Romney. But he appears to be holding his own, earning 29 percent of this group's vote to 26 percent for Gingrich.

Gingrich picks up Ard endorsement

Lt. Gov. Ken Ard endorsed Gingrich on Tuesday, issuing his announcement via an email from his office that included the lieutenant governor's seal and listing his state office phone number for anyone with questions.

While the announcement includes prominent use of state symbols and phone numbers, the message does not appear to run afoul of state ethics rules, a leading ethics official said Tuesday.

State senators like Paul

Ron Paul received endorsements Tuesday from Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, and GOP Sens. Kevin Bryan of Spartanburg and Sen. Danny Verdin of Laurens.

Meanwhile, Paul is stepping off the presidential campaign trail to vote against raising the federal debt ceiling. He will fly to Washington early today and plans to return to South Carolina on Thursday morning.

C of C forum to discuss federal debt issue

The federal debt has been one of the hottest issues in this year's GOP presidential race, and the College of Charleston will host a forum on the topic Thursday -- just hours before the candidates debate in North Charleston.

The Fiscal Forum will begin at 3 p.m. in room 115 of the Beatty Center, 5 Liberty St. It's free and open to the public.

The panelists include former Gov. Mark Sanford, former U.S. comptroller general and current CEO of the Comeback America Initiative David Walker, and Robert Bixby, executive director of The Concord Coalition and member of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Task Force on Debt Reduction.