The Flag Goes Up on 2012

(File/AP Photo)

(File/AP Photo)

With the first 2012 GOP presidential debate Thursday in South Carolina, top Republicans in the Palmetto State are warning several hopefuls who have chosen to skip the event that it will hurt them.

"Anyone that discounts South Carolina is making a huge mistake," said South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

South Carolina traditionally holds the first primary in the south. Since it began in 1980, no Republican has won the GOP presidential nomination without first winning the state.

In Iowa, home of the first caucuses, New Hampshire where the first primary will be held, and South Carolina, which votes third and takes the campaign trail into the old south, voters are notoriously demanding of candidates.

First -in-the-nation voters expect candidates to visit early and often and resent those who try to use big money and celebrity as a substitute for grass roots campaigning and a strong command of the issues.

"There's an arrogance that's abounding right now with some of these candidates and the state of South Carolina is a perfect conduit to select someone who will go out and work hard, shake hands, meet the people and say look, this is what I stand for, this is what I'm about," warned the state's Republican party chairwoman Karen Floyd.

Gov. Haley believes skipping Thursday's debate will put some of the candidates at odds with demanding Palmetto State voters eager to begin reviewing the candidates and their character.

"They're gonna have to work twice as hard to prove that they're in the game and while it is early, to show that you're strong early makes an important difference in South Carolina," Haley said. "So I would advise all of them get here, get here fast and make sure every part of the state notices you."

Some candidates have argued it's too soon to be debating. That really irks GOP powerbrokers who know candidates like Mitt Romney have been planning and campaigning for months

"They're wrong because we're eight months out. And can you imagine selecting a president without having a cadre of individuals sitting on the stage saying 'this is who I am. this is what I'm about and vote for me.'" said Floyd.

In order to participate in the debate, Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party have agreed that candidates must meet several requirements, including filing exploratory paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission, filing papers and paying a fee to the state party, as well as polling nationally. The deadline to qualify is the end of business Tuesday.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who plans to attend the debate, said, "I hope all of the serious or even potential candidates are going to get in this debate because, look, this is a president who's got his challenges, but he's going to raise a billion dollars; he's a very gifted campaigner and we've got to start taking the case to the American people why he should be fired."

Others expected to participate include former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who's 2008 run sparked the modern Tea Party movement, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, and businessman Herman Cain.

Newt Gingrich had planned to attend but has indicated he will not have filed the FEC papers in time. Mitt Romney has yet to file his South Carolina candidacy papers and some insiders have hinted that his strategy will downplay the Palmetto State this time.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann expressed eagerness to attend but does not expect to have her paperwork in order until June. Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin have filed no paperwork which some Republicans see as a sign that both will opt out of the 2012 race altogether.