Rick Perry, Sarah Palin: The elephants not in the room

GOP debate, Republicans, Iowa
Republican presidential candidates former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, from left, businessman Herman Cain, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich pose for a photo before the start of the Iowa GOP/Fox News Debate at the CY Stephens Auditorium in Ames, Iowa, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011.
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

One soon-to-be presidential candidate was conspicuously absent from Thursday night's Republican debate in Iowa: Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Perry is expected to surge to the top tier of the GOP field after officially announcing his campaign on Saturday, and the candidates on stage Thursday said they welcomed Perry's entry into the race.

"We all need prayers, and I hope he offers a whole lot for everybody here on this stage," former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman joked, alluding to the prayer event at which Perry recently spoke. Huntsman then went on to say Perry could bring "a little savvy" to the presidential race on the issue of jobs.

"We also need jobs in this country," he said. "And I hope that if he does get in this race, he broadens and expands this dialogue about job creation."

Congressman Ron Paul and businessman Herman Cain said Perry's entry into the race would boost their own respective campaigns.

"He represents the status quo," said Paul, known for his libertarian views. "And I feel like I'm sort of separated from the other candidates with my strong belief in liberty and limited government and different foreign policy, and wanting to deal with the Fed. So he'll just gather all their votes."

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Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, said, "That's just one more politician, and that makes this business problem solver stand out that much more."

Meanwhile, Rep. Michele Bachmann was asked whether another noticeably missing Republican -- Sarah Palin -- was stealing her thunder. While Palin isn't in the running for president, she has threatened to overshadow the candidates by reviving her bus tour in Iowa this weekend.

"I like Sarah Palin a lot. We are very good friends," Bachmann said. "And I think there's room in the race for Governor Perry [and] Sarah Palin."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also praised both of the potential candidates.

"Governor Perry has a great record of job creation in Texas, and I think he's a very formidable person," he said. "Governor Palin has a nationwide audience."

Pointing out how much time is left in the race, Gingrich said, "People have lots of time to come and play."