Here's my observations after watching the Republican candidate debate in Greenville, S.C.:
One of former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson’s major tasks for the debate was distinguishing himself and his libertarian philosophy from Rep. Ron Paul, who is perhaps the major leader of the libertarian movement in the U.S.
But the debate format, in which Fox News reporters and commentators asked questions of the five contenders on-stage, Johnson found little opportunity to do that. In fact it was Paul, not Johnson who got the first question about drug legalization even though Johnson made it a major issue of his second term as governor here.
Both Johnson and Paul were the only candidates who spoke in favor of legalizing drugs (Paul said he’d legalize heroin as well.) And Johnson and Paul were the only candidates who said they never would use water boarding for interrogating terrorism suspects.
As Bill Richardson learned in the Democratic presidential debates in the 2008 cycle, Johnson found out Thursday that it’s sometimes hard for a New Mexico governor to even get noticed during the debate. At one point when a Fox News questioner directed a question to Pawlenty, Johnson interrupted, protesting, “It's like nine questions for these guys and none for me.”
Johnson received both boos and scattered applause from the South Carolina Republican audience when he talked about his belief that women should have the right to abort a pregnancy “up to the point of viability.”
Johnson was able to reiterated his initial opposition to the war in Iraq and his recent opposition to military action against Libya. He said that while he supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks, there's no good reason to be there nearly 10 years later.
One idea that he repeated several times during the debate was that the U.S. is “on the verge of financial collapse” unless the federal budget is balanced.
One oddball question that took Johnson by surprise was what kind of reality television show he would like to have. Johnson, who has climbed Mt. Everest, said he’d do a show in which he’d climb the highest mountain in each of the seven continents.