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gop candidates in south carolina Republican presidential candidates take the stage before the start of the Republican presidential candidate debate at the North Charleston Coliseum in Charleston on January 19. (Photo: AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Election 2012: South Carolina Votes Tomorrow

But first, the remaining four candidates debate

By Faith Dalzell | January 20 , 2012

South Carolinans head to the polls tomorrow to cast their votes in that state's Republican primary. It's the third vote in 18 days, and the field of candidates is very different today than it was for the Iowa caucus.

Michele Bachmann dropped out of the race after Iowa, and Jon Huntsman dropped out after New Hampshire. Yesterday, with only two days before the South Carolina primary, Rick Perry announced he was suspending his campaign.

Perry made the announcement at an event in North Charleston, South Carolina. In the same speech, he announced his support for Newt Gingrich and formally endorsed the former Speaker of the House.

With Perry's exit, the Republican field is now down to four candidates: Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich. Those four candidates met in Charleston last night for the last debate before voters head to the polls on Saturday.

The debate was sponsored by CNN and the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. It was moderated by John King, CNN Chief Political Correspondent.

Heading into the debate, Romney was considered the frontrunner to win the primary. But his competition had reasons to be hopeful.

Gingrich, however, has seen a rise in the polls and was gaining on Romney. Santorum, who finished fifth in New Hampshire, was energized by the news that when the results of the Iowa caucus were certified he was the winner and not Romney. And Paul has made a serious impression on the young and undecided voters of the state.

For all the candidates, the South Carolina primary is a must win. The winner of this primary has traditionally gone on to become the Republican presidential nominee.

ON THE ISSUES

Like in previous debates, the candidates challenged each other on numerous topics. Last night, one of the big issues was jobs.

When asked about what he would do to get the economy going, Romney touted his record as Governor of Massachusetts and a corporate leader. He also set himself apart from the policies of the Obama administration.

"I know we're going to get attacked from the left, from Barack Obama, on capitalism," Romney said. "I know that people are going to say, 'Oh, you should only practice it this way or that way and think they know better than the private market.' My view is capitalism works. Free enterprise works."

Gingrich, meanwhile, touted what he would do as President for the people of South Carolina. He would start, he said, by drilling for the $29 billion worth of natural gas offshore.

"Part of the royalties of the natural gas could be used then to modernize the Port of Charleston and the Port of Georgetown. Charleston has to be modernized to meet the largest ships that will come through the Panama Canal in 2014. One out of every five jobs in South Carolina is dependent on the Port of Charleston."

Later in the night, another hot topic was debated: immigration.

Santorum said that when he looks at the issue, he does so as the son of an immigrant. America should welcome immigrants — as long as they follow the rules.

"People who want to come to this country and be Americans is really the continuing infusion of freedom and enthusiasm for our country," Santorum said. "But when you come here illegally, the first act you take is to break our law, that's a different story."

Paul agreed that something must be done about illegal immigrants. But he differed from his opponents by saying the country needs to look at why people come here illegally rather than following the law.

"We're all against illegal immigration. But I think what we fail to do is look at the incentives," Paul said. "There's an economic incentive in the welfare state for immigrants to come in. We need a more generous immigration policy. It should be legal, but we need more resources."

FINAL THOUGHTS

Despite all of their differences, the one thing most of the candidates agreed on was that they needed to defeat President Barack Obama in the general election.

"Barack Obama is just way over his head and he's taking our country down a path that is very dangerous," Romney said.

"I would make the argument that a conviction conservative who has a clear contrast with President Obama on the most important issues of the day is the best person," Santorum added.

"If [Obama] is re-elected after the disaster he has been, the level of radicalism of his second term will be truly frightening," Gingrich said.

Paul, meanwhile, said the most important thing in this election is liberty.

"If you understand liberty, it's equal for everybody; it benefits everybody," Paul said.  

The whole nation is waiting anxiously to find out who will win the South Carolina Republican Primary because some believe it will set the tone for other states to come.

Kid Reporter Zach Dalzell was in the spin room after the debate. Check out the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps Blog for his report!

ELECTION 2012

Scholastic News Kid Reporters are on the campaign trail! Keep up with latest election news on the Election 2012 website.

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