Cover Story: SC - Meet the Candidates

COLUMBIA, SC (WBTV) - Labor Day marks the unofficial start to the 2012 campaign for the White House.

Five Republicans appeared during a forum Monday with U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint.  The Tea Party favorite hosted a question and answer forum in Columbia for the top GOP contenders.

The Republican race for the White House is about to accelerate dramatically.

The South Carolina event held Monday - plus three scheduled debates in 16 days - the month of September may settle the field for good.

Get used to seeing a lot more of this group.

The top five candidates in the GOP field on the same stage at the Convention Center in Columbia on Monday to officially kick off the presidential campaign season in South Carolina.

"We're blessed. We get to pick out the next nominee."

South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Chad Connelly says it's his state's chance to shine.

"We pick presidents" they like to say.

And between now - the Labor Day the event hosted by Sen. DeMint and the end of February when South Carolina hosts the first-in-the-south primary - all the candidates will be here courting your vote.

"People are coming out of the woodwork to say they want to be involved. It's crisis time. I'm tearing up my 401(k) as well as my job situation. People are tuned in. This is the perfect timing for it," said Connelly.

On the stage Monday:  Michele Bachmann, the Congresswoman from Minnesota.  Businessman Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather's Pizza.  Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.  Texas Congressman Ron Paul.  And former Massachusetts Governor. Mitt Romney.

Rick Perry, the Texas Governor, bowed out at the last minute to deal with the wildfires in his home state.

South Carolina politicians like local Congressman Mick Mulvaney are keeping their powder dry before endorsing any one just yet.

"I think that the Republican who puts forth the most sound credible and detailed economic policy is not only going to win the Republican Primary but the election in November," said Mulvaney.

Monday's event was beamed worldwide by CNN.  And organized by South Carolina's U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint - whose endorsement all the candidates want - was more of a chance to get to know where the candidates stand not a debate.

It came on a day when Columbia was deserted.  Downtown streets empty on Labor Day.

Ron Paul's people were here carrying signs.  One said "End the Fed."  His supporters were there espousing Ron Paul's view of less government.

"Our whole future depends on what we do with this election I think," said John Perna, a Ron Paul supporter.

Patricia Voelker agrees.  Her sign read "Jobs for jobless? Yes. Tax cuts for corporations? No."

A registered Democrat for 50 years, Voelker came to voice an opposing opinion.

"We need a functioning government that puts all of us first not just the ones who can pay for your campaigns. It is critical. It is crucial," she said.

A major hurdle for South Carolina resolved itself over the weekend.

Arizona had made moves to jump ahead and host their presidential primary at the end of January now has backed down under pressure.

States are jockeying to be first.  They want the clout South Carolina has in picking the nominee.

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