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GOP Hopefuls Descend on Palmetto State

The Fix is on his way to South Carolina today for tonight's Republican presidential debate. Sponsored by Fox News Channel and moderated by anchor Brit Hume, the 90-minute debate is set to start at 9 p.m. ET.

The same ten candidates who shared the stage two weeks ago in California will be back, with all eyes (again) on the three frontrunners -- Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Gov. Mitt Romney. (Mass.).

Part of the thrill of seeing these debates in person is the show before the show. Scores of interest groups hoping to make a political point will descend on the Koger Center in Columbia prior to the debate in hopes of attracting the eye of the national media.

Take Americans Against Escalation In Iraq. The group will not only sponsor a 20-foot high mobile billboard -- reading "Republicans: Mission Accomplished?" -- that will circle the Koger Center for the during the debate -- but is also running an ad following the conclusion of the debate hitting McCain for his support of President Bush's Iraq policy.

The ad, which you can watch below, begins with footage of Bush saying: "I have always said that I will listen to the requests of the generals on the ground." Retired Major General John Batiste, who left the Army in protest over the war, is then shown.

"Mr. President, you continue to pursue a failed strategy that is breaking our great Army and Marine Corps," says Batiste, before adding: "Senator McCain. Protect America, not George Bush.

The ad will run only once, costing the organization roughly $25,000. It's designed to draw media attention for the group. But that attention could benefit McCain in a state like South Carolina, where most Republican primary voters still view Bush favorably and believe he is doing the right thing in Iraq.

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq isn't alone in hoping to make a splash tonight. There's a League of Conservation Voters op-ed in The State, and the Politico's Jonathan Martin reports on Planned Parenthood's plan to call on presidential candidates to back the group's "commonsense values of personal responsibility and prevention." It's not likely any of the GOP candidates will volunteer...

Meanwhile, the Spartanburg Herald-Journal reports that negative flyers attacking Mormonism have been showing up in Republican voters' mailboxes in advance of Romney's arrival in the state today.

And it's only May 2007!

Today will be a slow one on The Fix as we travel down to Columbia. But check The Fix during the debate tonight for highlights and lowlights in real-time. Then tomorrow we'll have a list of rundown of the debate's winners and losers.

Here's that anti-war ad targeting McCain:

VIDEO | 'Senator McCain: Protect America, Not George Bush' (Ad by Americans Against Escalation in Iraq)

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 15, 2007; 9:40 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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