Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson all said they would release the photos U.S. President Barack Obama decided Wednesday not to release. Only Herman Cain, best known as the former chairman and chief executive officer of Godfather's Pizza, said he would not.
Obama concluded after a brief but intense debate within his war council that making the images public could incite anti-American violence and would do little to persuade skeptics the al-Qaida founder had been killed, the White House said.
The 90-minute debate, sponsored by Fox News Channel and the South Carolina Republican Party, did not attract higher profile GOP hopefuls other than Pawlenty. These include former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.
Other potential candidates who skipped the debate include U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former U.S. ambassador to China and ex-Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former vice presidential candidate and ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump.
Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer had planned to participate but failed to meet the minimum requirements set out by the debate organizers.
Pawlenty said he supported co-called enhanced interrogation techniques -- including waterboarding -- "in certain circumstances."
"We need to do everything we can, within our value systems and our legal structures to protect Americans," he said, drawing what The Washington Times said was his loudest applause of the night.
Santorum and Cain said they agreed. Paul and Johnson said they didn't support waterboarding.
When asked if Obama was unbeatable, Paul said "the economy and high prices" were Obama's greatest vulnerability.
Cain said, "He is not unbeatable because one right decision does not a great president make," indicating the bin Laden raid was Obama's one right decision.
Of surveys showing Obama's approval ratings rising, Pawlenty said: "Respectfully, those polls are wrong. We can't restore America's promise unless we have a president who keeps his promise to America."
Santorum said, "You want someone who can beat Democratic incumbents in tough times?" -- then pointed his thumb at himself.
Johnson said, "Only Republicans are capable of solving the problems that exist right now."
A Fox News Channel focus group of 29 South Carolina voters gathered by Republican pollster Frank Luntz indicated Cain won the debate.
Cain's name came up first alphabetically and the vast majority of hands shot up for Cain. After seeing the hands, Luntz, who is also a Fox News Channel commentator, did not ask about the other candidates, the Times said.