The Uninvited: Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman Take Issue With Jim DeMint Over Forum Snub

Sep 5, 2011 1:20pm

ABC News’ Michael Falcone and Gregory Simmons report:

COLUMBIA, S.C. — No, their invitations didn’t get lost in the mail. They were never sent.

Though most of the major presidential candidates were offered the chance to speak at a Labor Day forum here with Sen. Jim DeMint, two of the contenders were not. Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman were left off the roster because they did not meet the polling threshold set by organizers of Monday’s Palmetto Freedom Forum.

Candidates had to reach five percent or above on the Real Clear Politics national polling average, according to the participation criteria set by the American Principles Project, which is organizing Monday’s event. Huntsman is currently hovering just above one percent nationally and Santorum is at two percent.

But in interviews with ABC News on Monday, both candidates sounded less than thrilled about their exclusion

“Jim DeMint prides himself on finding the best candidates — maybe not the ones that do the best in the polls — and prides himself in promoting them,” Santorum said in an interview. “I guess that only applies to some races, not the most important one: the presidential race.”

Santorum, who has logged more visits to South Carolina than any other candidate, pointed out: “Four years ago Mike Huckabee would not have been invited to this event because he didn’t qualify and ended up being in the race until the very end.”

DeMint, who is regarded as a Tea Party kingmaker in some circles, told ABC’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview on “This Week” on Sunday that “we’ve got the top runners or the top tier” at Monday’s forum where five other presidential candidates will appear.

Huntsman, who was in South Carolina recently to announce the endorsement of the state’s Attorney General Alan Wilson, said that the notion that the candidates who appear on stage represent the “top tier” was a stretch.

“I think it’s a false assumption. If you look at the race, already over the last several months we’ve had three or four frontrunners on the Republican side,” Huntsman told ABC without mentioning DeMint by name. “I’m here to tell you, we’re going to have new Republican frontrunners in the months to come.”

He added, “There is no well-defined and well-established frontrunner. There are some people with name recognition, there are some people with temporary numbers, but this is a long slog, this is a marathon.”

Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain will be on hand in Columbia on Monday to be questioned by DeMint, along with Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and American Principles Project Founder Robert George. Texas Gov. Rick Perry was a late scratch from the lineup. A spokesman for the governor said he decided to skip it in order to immediately return to Texas to deal with the wildfires there.

Huntsman is spending Labor Day in New Hampshire, while Santorum is in South Carolina campaigning at several events just a few miles from where the forum is to be held Monday afternoon.

“It doesn’t surprise me the power brokers are looking past us … if he’s going to let them decide who to pick from, that’s fine,” Santorum said, referring to Senator DeMint. “Let the people of South Carolina decide who they want to pick from.”

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