Why May 5 matters in the 2012 presidential race

March 6, 2011

By Chris Cillizza, The Washington Post

And then there was one — sort of.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s kind-of, sort-of toe-dipping into the presidential waters on Thursday amounts to the kickoff of the 2012 Republican primary fight with several other serious contenders — including former Govs. Haley Barbour (Miss.), Mitt Romney (Mass.) and Tim Pawlenty (Minn.) — expected to enter the contest officially over the next few months.

But when might we know the full scope of the field? Circle May 5 on your calendars.

That’s the day of the first-in-the-south presidential debate being hosted by the South Carolina Republican Party and, more importantly for our purposes, Fox News Channel.

Earlier this week, Fox sent a clear signal to Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) — both of whom are contributors to the cable network — that weighing a presidential bid and appearing on its airwaves simultaneously is no longer acceptable. The network placed both men on leave effective immediately and said that their contracts would be voided on May 1 unless they had announced their intention not to run for president by then.

That deadline, coming just four days before a Fox debate, seems too well-timed to be accidental. And, while Santorum and Gingrich will almost certainly be in the race by that point, the May 5 debate could also wind up serving as a functional deadline to decide for two more high-profile Fox contributors: Former Govs. Sarah Palin (Alaska) and Mike Huckabee (Ark.).

It’s hard to imagine that Fox would take such a hard line on Gingrich and Santorum while allowing Palin and Huckabee to continue to appear on its airwaves up to and through the May 5 debate without any public decision about their political futures.

To read more, visit:  http://voices.washingtonpost.com/thefix/the-line/friday-presidential-line-3.html

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