Sen. Rick Santorum filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission Tuesday to establish an official exploratory campaign for president, a formal step that allows him to participate in the first televised debate Thursday for Republican candidates.
It's not much of a surprise, because Santorum has made it pretty clear that he's going to be in the race unless the money runs out - or doesn't come into his bank account in the first place.
Thursday's FOX News debate from Greenville, S.C. is shaping up to be smaller than originally hoped. Some prominent first-tier candidates will not be participating, which will give a chance to Santorum, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, businessman Herman Cain of Georgia and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.
Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, is participating, and he has chided other candidates considered to be in the first-tier of competitors for not showing up. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich could not meet the criteria of the South Carolina GOP in time; party officials limited the debate to candidates who had established formal exploratory committees by Tuesday.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, widely considered the front-runner, has elected not to participate, and has indeed avoided most candidate cattle calls so far in the campaign, an apparently deliberate strategy to avoid elevating lesser-known rivals. And we still don't know the intentions of Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who also will be absent Thursday.