GREENVILLE , S.C. -- Republican presidential hopefuls met for their first debate Thursday night in the important primary state of South Carolina.
The debate stage in Greenville was certainly large enough to host plenty of Republican candidates. But for various reasons, only five showed up.
Fewer candidates, though, means more primetime exposure for underdogs like Tea Party favorite Herman Cain, who criticized President Obama's delay in sending U.S. forces after Osama bin Laden.
"We don't know how much it jeopardized this latest mission to get bin Laden because he waited 16 hours to make the decision," Cain said. "When you've got a mission that is that precise, down to every little detail, a president that procrastinates puts people's lives in jeopardy."
Cain also weighed in on the role of government.
"Government doesn't create jobs. Businesses create jobs," he said. "We need to get government out of the way."
For former Sen. Rick Santorum, the debate was a chance to show off his strong views on social issues, especially when asked about possible presidential candidate Mitch Daniels' call for a truce on social issues during these tough financial times.
"I think anybody that would suggest that we call a truce on the moral issues doesn't understand what America is all about," Santorum said.
At one point, another underdog, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, appeared to be feeling left out.
"In fairness this is like nine questions for these guys and like none for me!" he said.
Though he finally received one on immigration, his answer might not please conservatives.
"When it comes to putting the National Guard arm-to-arm across 2,000 miles of border, in my opinion, that would be a whole lot of money spent with very little, if any, benefit whatsoever," he said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, continued to hammer home his theme of state's rights even if that meant legalizing heroine.
"How many people here would use heroin if it were legal? I bet nobody would be," he said.
As for potential threat, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, he weighed on fighting radical jihadists.
"We need to call them by name. They believe it is okay to kill people in the name of their religion," he said.
"It is not all of Islam. It is not all Muslims," he noted. "But there is a subgroup who believe it is okay. In fact, it is their plan and design to kill people."
The debate stage may have been somewhat empty, but outside the venue it was a different story. Hundreds of Tea Party members attended the debate site as part of a freedom rally, complete with a prayer vigil.
"Socialism doesn't like us looking to God," Tea Party supporter Pastor Frank Radich said.
Earlier at a nearby hotel, the Tea Party crowd gathered to hear speakers and candidates touch on fiscal and social issues. While the crowd was made up of some libertarians, there was an abundance of evangelicals.
"Ultimately a good economic policy and a good social policy are one in the same," said Josh Kimbrell, CEO of the Round Table of South Carolina, a faith-based group dedicated to uniting economic and social conservatives.
"You can't build long term budget cuts, long-term reducing the size of government on the backs of an expanded welfare state," he said. "And you can't do that unless you have a strong family culture."
Thursday's candidates will need both evangelical and Tea Party support if they plan to make any noise in the presidential race.