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The final GOP debate before this Saturday’s South Carolina Republican primary will take place tonight from Charleston, South Carolina. This debate is sponsored by CNN and the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. We will see just four candidates on stage since Rick Perry has dropped out this morning.

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Air Time: Thursday, January 19 at 8pm ET on CNN

Full Video: Video: Watch the full CNN Southern Republican Debate

Participants: Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul (Perry has dropped out)

Rick Perry barely qualified for this debate and it appears that CNN went out of its way to make sure he met the criteria. More on this from Politico:

CNN’s Sam Feist calls to say that contrary to the report by Talking Points Memo, Rick Perry has met the criteria for the debate on January 19. Per CNN criteria, a candidate qualifies for the debate if he averages 7 percent in three national polls in 2012. Feist says that Perry averages at least 7 percent based on a Gallup poll from January 3, a CBS poll from January 9, and a Reuters/Ipsos poll from January 10.

In the Gallup poll published January 3, Perry received 7 percent.

In the CBS poll published January 9, Perry received 6 percent AND 7 percent.*

In the Reuters/Ipsos poll published January 10, Perry received 7 percent.

*The source for all the confusion: When CBS published the results of its poll on January 9, it listed Rick Perry at 6 percent. However, the full release shows that Perry received 6 percent when those surveyed had an option to choose “Someone Else,” and received 7 percent when those surveyed did not have that option. Because Perry received 7 percent in the latter poll, he qualifies for the CNN debate in South Carolina… by the skin of his teeth.

So Perry just got his toe in the door on this one which still leaves him in OK standing. The fact that he nearly missed the cutoff doesn’t bode well for him.

The real story line of this debate will focus on Romney and the attacks being leveled by the remaining candidates. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul will need to give strong performances if they hope to garner some more votes to dig out of second place and right now it appears Gingrich is making some headway.

Update

Rick Perry has ended his 2012 candidacy, see this post for details.

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Nate Ashworth is the Founder and Senior Editor of Election Central. He's been blogging elections and politics for almost a decade. He started covering the 2008 Presidential Election which turned into a full-time political blog in 2012 and 2016.

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