QUITE A LINEUP IN SOUTH CAROLINA…. Exactly eight years ago this week, the field of Democratic presidential candidates assembled for their first debate of the 2004 cycle. It was held the same weekend as the release of the second X-Men movie, prompting Jon Stewart to draw a parallel, describing the Democratic debate as a “saga of a small group of misfits — ‘mutants,’ if you will — shunned by human society.”

If the Dems’ 2004 field was characterized as misfits and mutants, I can’t wait to hear how folks describe the participants in the first debate for Republican presidential candidates.

Republicans are holding their first presidential debate tomorrow in South Carolina. The state Republican Party just released the complete list of contenders:

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, Congressman Ron Paul, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and pizza guy Herman Cain.

It’s a list you could just keep reading to yourself all day.

Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer (R) reportedly wanted to participate, but has been excluded, apparently because every national poll has his support below 1%.

Romney declined without explanation; Gingrich won’t set up an exploratory committee until next week and is therefore ineligible; Huntsman is in a similar boat; Bachmann hasn’t made any formal moves; Daniels is still figuring out what he wants to do; Roy Moore falls into Roemer’s category; and Palin and Huckabee are still on the Fox News payroll.

And that leaves Pawlenty, Santorum, Johnson, Paul, and Cain. I’d call this a clown debate but I don’t want to insult clowns.

One of these five, former two-term Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, obviously stands out as the most credible of the group — though that’s not saying much — and probably hopes to take advantage of the situation.

Indeed, Pawlenty probably sees this as an opportunity. He’ll shine, the argument goes, against fringe, unknown, and unelectable candidates with no credible shot at the nomination.

That’s certainly possible. But there’s also the problem a 15 year old experiences when he’s told he has to sit at the little kids’ table at a family gathering — being dragged down is embarrassing. Pawlenty may tower over the other four, but does he seriously believe his stature will get a boost standing alongside Herman Cain and Ron Paul?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.