Saying no opportunity is too small to pass up, the three Republican candidates who took part in a lower-tier debate on Dec. 15 were scrambling to secure the voter who might have been a supporter of Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina who suspended his presidential campaign on Dec. 21.
“We have entered World War III,” declared Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, who, along with former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and former Gov. George Pataki of New York are the only three lower-tier presidential candidates remaining after Mr. Graham’s withdrawal from the race.
“You are looking at your next leader,” Mr. Santorum said, speaking to a mostly empty auditorium while holding up a lump of coal to illustrate his connection to a grandfather who was a miner in Pennsylvania. “I am appealing to you, supporter of Lindsey Graham, whoever you are. I need your help. Let’s keep the momentum we have built. Together, with our own four hands, we can make this happen.”
Not to be outdone, Mr. Huckabee leaped in front of a camera that may or may not have been broadcasting, saying he understood that Americans were “just plain scared” to tune into the lower-tier debates.
“We have an enemy out there. Some may say it us, the candidates in the warm-up debates that will say anything to try to get attention. But that would be the mainstream media speaking,” he said. “I know you don’t trust us anymore. That’s OK. I’m not asking for your trust. I am asking for your vote. And I promise I will do anything you want to get it.”
Mr. Pataki, who was governor of New York during and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, called his competition for the presidency the biggest “know-nothing candidates of the 21st century.”
“But that won’t stop me from chasing after that supporter of the honorable senator from South Carolina,” he said. “I am in this to win. One vote at a time.”
The three Republican candidates, whom voters have strenuously ignored all year tried as they have jostled for a second — or third or fourth or fifth — look in lower-tier debates, are hoping the downfall of Mr. Graham’s campaign, might offer them a breakthrough and at least one additional vote.
But even as they battled for Mr. Graham’s supporter, the three struggling candidates sought other ways to shock the public into paying attention to their campaigns.
Citing his 36 trips to men’s rooms during campaign stops in New Hampshire, Mr. Pataki seemed anxious to pick a fight with the party’s front-runner Donald Trump, who attacked Hillary Clinton in vulgar terms on Dec. 21, saying that her bathroom break during the last Democratic debate was just too “disgusting” to talk about.
“There is nothing too disgusting for me to talk about,” Mr. Pataki said, speaking loudly into his lapel microphone. “And if some candidates have a problem with that, maybe it is time they were removed from the main stage.”
Mr. Santorum, who was still a little winded from an 11-hour drive to seek out the Lindsey Graham supporter – a false lead, he said - maintained that he is in the race for the long haul.
He said he is the only candidate who was recently declared an enemy in the English-language magazine of the Islamic State and he is the only candidate, he said, that the main-stage presidential contenders fear.
“They know who I am, and I know who they are,” he said. “And after today, they will know who Lindsey Graham’s supporter is.”
With the field of Republican presidential candidates down to 13, Mr. Huckabee said he liked his chances now “to gain traction” in the race for the party nomination.
“The centerpiece of my campaign has always been to secure the nomination and secure our nation – in that order,” he said.
He called the campaign against his fellow candidates “a war I cannot afford to lose,” and he repeated his call to “turn back the tide of isolationism that has left him a lower-tier candidate with few viewers or funders.
“If we can just win over that Graham voter, I think we’ll be on our way,” he said.
While Mr. Huckabee, Mr. Pataki, and Mr. Santorum have their differences, they do agree on one point.
“While I don’t want to get into a fight with Donald Trump – unless it will help my polling numbers,” Mr. Pataki said, “I do want to remind voters of their civic duty, and everyone that the three of us here, and Senator Graham’s supporter, have really been schlonged.”

Philip Maddocks writes a weekly satirical column. He can be reached at pmaddocks@wickedlocal.com.