Which Candidates Will Be on Stage for the Third Republican Debate?

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One year away from the 2024 election, amid a contracting GOP primary field for president, five candidates have qualified for the third Republican debate on Wednesday, compared to the seven who qualified for the last one.

The most notable absence from the debate stage in Miami will be former Vice President Mike Pence, who dropped out of the race late last month. Pence is now looking to back another candidate in an attempt to thwart former President Donald Trump, whose primary victory is looking increasingly inevitable. (North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum also didn't make the cut.)

A Trump campaign spokesperson said in September that Trump would not be attending the third debate. His team also called on the Republican National Committee to cancel all future debates, a request which the committee ignored, announcing it had scheduled a fourth debate for December. The former president is scheduled to rally in nearby Hialeah, FL, on Wednesday night, where his team will even have a spin room to counter what may be said about him at the debate, according to a recent press release.

To qualify for the third debate, the Republican National Committee requires candidates to have drawn donations from 70,000 individuals, including at least 200 donors from at least 20 different states. They also need 4% support in two qualifying national polls or in a mix of national and early state polls conducted on or after September 1, and they must sign a loyalty pledge agreeing to support whoever the party eventually nominates.

“We are looking forward to our third debate in Miami, a welcome opportunity for our candidates to showcase our winning conservative agenda to the American people,” RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. “We are especially honored to be the first political party to partner with a Jewish organization for a debate in our partnership with the Republican Jewish Coalition, and our candidates will reaffirm the Republican Party’s unwavering support of Israel and the Jewish community on the stage Wednesday night.

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Here are the five candidates set to be on the debate stage:

Ron DeSantis

Lately, the Florida Governor has found himself sparring with former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who has caught up to him in some polls. In particular, DeSantis has argued that he has been tougher on China and slammed her comments about Gaza. The attacks suggest that his status as the most viable Trump alternative is no longer secure. After winning reelection by a resounding 20 points in the Sunshine State last year, Desantis, 45, has continued to face a barrage of criticism for everything from embracing right-wing culture war issues to his choice of footwear. In another blow, one of his home-state senators, Rick Scott, recently backed Trump. 

Nikki Haley

Haley’s performances in the last two debates have catapulted her to second place in some polls. Donors are giving her a second look, especially due to her foreign policy credentials as a former Ambassador to the United Nations. For some Republican financiers and operatives, the war in Israel has underscored Haley’s experience. Additionally, many see Haley, 51, as a candidate who a significant number of Republicans could coalesce around against Trump—the Charleston Post and Courier recently called for just that—and one who could win over moderates in a general election. 

Vivek Ramaswamy

Despite arriving on the national stage with a bang and mixing it up with his rivals during the two previous debates, Ramaswamy has seen little progress in the polls. This fall, the 38-year-old entrepreneur has continued to embrace positions controversial within his party, for instance, by suggesting both that the U.S. should reduce its support for Israel and that the country should put Hamas leaders’ heads on stakes. He has also continued arguing with Democrats, as he did in a recent debate with fellow Indian American Rep. Ro Khanna of California. But his campaign is now also employing more traditional methods of reaching voters, including multimillion-dollar ad buys in Iowa and New Hampshire. While he flirted with skipping the third debate due to concerns about the RNC’s rules, his campaign announced he has decided to attend after all. 

Chris Christie

Even as Trump has appeared increasingly dominant, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has continued to frame his bid in opposition to the former President. He recently predicted that Trump will be convicted in one of the many cases he is currently facing. For his part, Christie, 61, is languishing in most national polls, but is often running in fourth in New Hampshire, where he has focused much of his effort

Tim Scott

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott remains outside the top tier of candidates, despite his reputation for being well-liked by his colleagues and GOP donors. His campaign recently consolidated its resources in Iowa, a state he sees as key to his bid. Running on a message of optimism and faith in America, Scott, 58, lacked standout moments in previous debates, where he largely steered clear of conflict with other candidates.

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