Four years and two days ago, a crowded field of Republican White House hopefuls gathered in Simi Valley, Calif., for the first GOP debate of the 2008 election cycle, co-hosted by MSNBC and Politico.
Participants included all the marquee names who would shape the Republican primary race -- John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee -- along with a broad roster of second-tier candidates, such as former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), Sen. Sam Brownback (Kansas), former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, Reps. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) and Tom Tancredo (Colo.), and former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson.
Tonight at 9 p.m. EST, Republican eyes will turn to their party's first debate of the 2012 cycle, and find significantly fewer candidates taking the stage.
Co-hosted in Greenville, S.C., by the South Carolina Republican Party and Fox News, Thursday's hour-long debate will feature just five candidates:
- Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather's Pizza
- Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico
- Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota
- Ron Paul
- Former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.)
Some of the biggest names flirting with or planning presidential bids will be absent. Not making it to the stage will be: Sarah Palin, Romney, Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Donald Trump, and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.).