By Gram Slattery
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Eight top Republican presidential contenders will take part on Wednesday in the first debate of the 2024 primary election cycle. Here are some facts about the showdown:
WHEN AND WHERE WILL IT TAKE PLACE?
The debate will take place at the Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET (0100 GMT on Thursday) and will be broadcast on Fox News.
Wisconsin, where Milwaukee is located, is one of the most politically competitive states in the nation, and both Democrats and Republicans will be fighting hard to win there in the 2024 presidential election.
Republicans are set to hold their national convention there in roughly 11 months, where they will formally nominate a challenger to take on Democratic President Joe Biden.
WHO WILL BE THERE?
All major Republican candidates will be present with one major exception: former President Donald Trump. Trump, who is leading the field by 34 points according to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, has opted to sit for an interview with conservative commentator Tucker Carlson instead, a decision that has been attacked by his competitors.
The eight participants are Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former biotechnology investor and executive Vivek Ramaswamy, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Senator Tim Scott, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.
To qualify, candidates needed to have reached minimum thresholds in national or state-level polls and received donations from at least 40,000 unique donors. They are also required to sign a pledge certifying that they will support the eventual Republican nominee.
WHAT QUESTIONS WILL THE CANDIDATES FACE?
While the questions the candidates will be asked has not been publicly disclosed, Martha MacCallum, a Fox News host who will moderate the debate alongside colleague Bret Baier, indicated in an interview with Vanity Fair last week that abortion and Trump’s criminal indictments will be on the table.
Both topics are tricky. While most Republicans favor strict abortion restrictions, many more moderate Republicans disagree, as do most independent voters, whose votes will be crucial in the general election.
On the issue of Trump’s indictments, most Republicans view the charges he faces as politically motivated, making the topic a fraught one for his rivals.
HOW IMPORTANT ARE DEBATES?
In some cases, during previous primary campaigns, poor performances have sunk candidacies, while strong performances have launched minor candidates into the top tier. Moreover, the debate will draw millions of viewers, many of whom will be tuning into the election for the first time, campaign strategists say.
The first debate generally marks the start of a more intense stage of the campaign in the months before the first nominating contest, in Iowa.
The debate could be particularly crucial for DeSantis, who is second in the polls behind Trump, but whose standing has slid throughout the summer. Allies say the debate could be a crucial inflection point if he performs well. If he performs poorly, he could sink back into the pack.
HOW MANY DEBATES ARE THERE?
So far, there are two scheduled, with the next taking place in southern California in September. Several more are likely, with an October debate likely to occur in Alabama, according to a person familiar with the operations of the Republican National Committee.
(Reporting by Gram Slattery; additional reporting by Susan Heavey; editing by Ross Colvin, Alistair Bell and Bernadette Baum)