When Fox News and the South Carolina GOP hold the first Republican presidential debate Thursday, two of the five participants will be libertarian-leaning Republicans: Congressman Ron Paul and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.
Paul and Johnson generally agree on the issues, championing civil liberties and the idea that government has grown far too big, is involved in far too many things, and does most of them poorly.
Both favor drastic cuts in government spending, lowering taxes, repealing last year's healthcare reform legislation, eliminating the Department of Education and both also oppose legislation defining marriage as between a man and woman
But the pair parts ways on abortion. Paul opposes it, believing that life begins at conception. Johnson supports a woman's right to choose, though he opposes government funding to support abortion.
The presence of two GOP candidates with such similar philosophies has prompted the libertarian blogosphere to question which man to support.
Some bloggers worry that the two will dilute each other's impact or even damage the libertarian message if they engage in attacks on each other. Their solution would have either Paul or Johnson drop out and throw support to the other.
Other libertarian types believe their cause can only benefit by having two proponents pushing the message, a sentiment Johnson seems to agree with.
"If it were Ron Paul and me splitting 50 percent of the vote, then yeah that's definitely not going to be a good thing with regard to the message. But if it's splitting up (the) percent that he took last go around, then that's really not consequential at all."
Because of the attention Paul gained by running for the GOP nomination in 2008, he is by far the better known of the two. His candidacy arguably played a much greater role than the less than10 percent of the vote he took in the GOP primaries before dropping out.
Paul's vocal support of libertarian-tinged views earned him rabid support among like-minded individuals and enabled the Texas congressman to raise $28 million in mostly small, online donations. Many of the views he espoused in his campaign later became prominent in those pushed by the Tea Party two years later, helping the GOP win a red tide of victories in 2010.
Neither Paul nor Johnson, though, claim membership in the Tea Party. Johnson believes politicians who do are disingenuous, pointing out that the Tea Party is an amorphous grassroots movement with no true leaders. "Anybody in my opinion that says they're part of the Tea Party movement, that would be an indicator that they're not." But there is no doubt that some of the issues Paul and Johnson champion are more accepted now by many in the GOP.
Johnson has by far the most to gain in Tuesday's debate. He announced his candidacy in New Hampshire on April 21st. He is obviously hoping that state's reputation for independence will turn voters there toward him and ultimately propel his candidacy into the first tier.
At this stage of the game, however, Johnson desperately needs greater name recognition and the donors that come with it.
In the long run, whether Johnson or Paul ultimately win mantle of chief libertarian Republican, most prognosticators believe they will have little chance of winning the GOP nomination.