By Tim Reid
(Reuters) – Seven Republican candidates have qualified to take part in the second 2024 Republican presidential debate on Wednesday in California. Donald Trump will skip the event and give a speech in Detroit to autoworkers.
Here are some facts about the event and what to expect:
WHEN AND WHERE WILL IT TAKE PLACE?
Following on from last month’s debate in Wisconsin, the second showdown will take place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute in Simi Valley, California, about 45 miles (72 km) north of Los Angeles.
The Republican National Committee, which organizes the debates, has picked the Fox Business Network to host the event, alongside Univision, the U.S.-based Spanish language TV channel, and Rumble, the online video platform popular with conservatives. The two-hour debate will start at 9 p.m. ET (0100 GMT).
FEWER CANDIDATES – AND NO TRUMP AGAIN
The qualifying rules for the second debate are more stringent than the first last month, when eight candidates were on stage in Milwaukee. This means longshot former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson failed to make the cut due to poor polling.
Former President Donald Trump, the runaway frontrunner in the nominating contest according to opinion polls, has said he will skip the debates, and did not appear at the first one.
As he did in August, Trump will hold a rival event at the same time as the debate. He will give a speech in Detroit to autoworkers and other blue-collar workers at 8 p.m. ET. The United Auto Workers (UAW) union on Sept. 14 launched strikes at three U.S. auto plants after failing to reach an agreement over new contracts, the first-ever simultaneous labor action against the Detroit Three automakers.
The seven candidates set to be on stage are: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, biotech investor Vivek Ramaswamy, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.
With one less participant, there will be more time for each candidate to attack each other and make their pitches to voters. It also gives them more opportunity to shine or self-destruct.
DESANTIS DESPERATELY NEEDS A BREAKOUT PERFORMANCE
DeSantis, who was seen in January as the most likely candidate to topple Trump, has had a difficult year, with sinking poll numbers and two staff shake-ups. Once the clear second-place candidate behind Trump, DeSantis’ campaign has floundered as some other candidates closed the gap with him in recent polls.
The Florida governor delivered a solid, if not flashy, performance in last month’s debate but was frequently overshadowed by Ramaswamy. DeSantis will be looking for some breakout moments this time around to rejuvenate his candidacy.
RAMASWAMY WILL GET HIT FROM ALL SIDES
With Trump currently crushing his rivals by roughly 40 percentage points in national polls, the Republican nominating contest has become a fight for second place. His rivals hope the former president’s four criminal indictments and legal woes will somehow knock him out of the race next year, giving an alternative nominee the chance to emerge.
After Ramaswamy’s pugnacious performance in the August debate, expect to see more attacks on him and his lack of experience, especially by Haley and Pence, both of whom had strong outings last month.
Like DeSantis, Scott also needs a more forceful night after his subdued one last month. The Haley-Ramaswamy-Scott-Pence scramble to overtake DeSantis and become the clear alternative to Trump will likely be a major dynamic.
DEFEND TRUMP, ATTACK BIDEN
Do not expect to see most candidates – with the exception of Christie – going after Trump for his indictments and the fact he is now the first former president with a mug shot. Many Republican primary voters believe Trump’s claim that the indictments are an effort by the Biden administration to thwart his candidacy, and attacking him on the issue would likely be political suicide.
With the Republican-controlled House of Representatives launching a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden over alleged links to the business practices of his son Hunter Biden, expect to see a barrage of accusations against the Democratic president, an issue that plays well with the Republican base despite the dearth of evidence unearthed so far.
A PLAY FOR HISPANIC VOTERS
The inclusion of Univision as a debate host is telling. Republican support among Latinos, an increasingly key voting bloc in some key battleground states, including Arizona and Nevada, has been growing in recent years, while Hispanic support for Biden has been dropping. Expect to see candidates asked about the economy and how they plan to improve the financial prospects for Latino families.
(Reporting by Tim Reid in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Costas Pitas; editing by Ross Colvin, Jonathan Oatis and Christian Schmollinger)