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

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The Iowa caucuses are a little more than a month away, and the Republican presidential candidates are running out of opportunities to prove themselves.

On December 6, four candidates will gather in Tuscaloosa, AL for the fourth—and possibly the last—primary debate before voters weigh in. Once again, former President Donald Trump is planning to skip the event as he continues to hold an increasingly insurmountable lead in the polls. He is expected to hold a private fundraiser instead, according to NBC News.

The debate stage will be the smallest yet. To qualify, the Republican National Committee required candidates to have drawn donations from 80,000 individuals, including at least 200 donors from at least 20 different states. They also needed to show having 6% support in two qualifying national polls or in a combination of one national poll and one poll from two different early states. Additionally, they must have signed a loyalty pledge agreeing to support whoever the party eventually nominates.

Five candidates attended the last debate, but one of them, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, dropped out of the race shortly afterwards. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, who failed to qualify for the last debate, dropped out of the race on Monday before the RNC had announced the participants of the Alabama debate.

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Here are the candidates who will be on the debate stage:

Nikki Haley

Off the back of her strong performances in previous debates, Haley, Trump’s former Ambassador to the United Nations and a former governor of South Carolina, has steadily gained in the polls while attracting renewed attention from influential Republicans. Many are drawn to her foreign policy credentials and her calls to focus on finding a “consensus” on abortion that can pass Congress. Since Scott, the other South Carolina politician in the race, dropped out last month, Haley has picked up more support from the state’s deep-pocketed donors, as well as Wall Street bigwigs. Most recently, she earned an endorsement from Americans for Prosperity, the major advocacy group in the Koch political network. Some national surveys have found Haley running in second place to the former president, and she is running firmly in second in New Hampshire. With the first nominating contests less than 45 days away, Haley appears to be solidifying the support of Trump-averse Republicans who are hoping against hope that the party avoids a 2020 general election rematch. 

Ron DeSantis

The fight between Haley and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to define themselves as the best alternative to Trump has continued throughout November. One place where DeSantis has strengthened his position is in Iowa, where he earned the endorsement of Governor Kim Reynolds, as well as that of Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of the Iowa-based conservative group The Family Leader. But even there, he faces stiff competition from Haley, who has been rising in polls of the Hawkeye state. Still, DeSantis often places second in polls of Iowa, and in national polls. After his campaign got off to a rocky start, highlighting controversial culture war issues, he has more recently emphasized his record in Florida, where he won reelection last year by 20 points after rejecting COVID-19 restrictions. (His approach to the pandemic was one key topic in an unusual debate on Thursday that pitted him against California Governor Gavin Newsom.) DeSantis signed a law in Florida this year that would ban most abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy. He has committed to supporting a 15-week national ban.

Vivek Ramaswamy

While he got plenty of attention for his attacks on other candidates and even the moderators at the last debate, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy has not gained much ground in the polls. He has continued to draw little contrast between himself and the former President; in fact, his political director recently left his campaign to join Trump’s. He has continued to slam elected Republicans, make pledges to slash positions in federal agencies, and issue warnings about preventing World War III. But Ramaswamy has made some strategic shifts. After rising to prominence running an unconventional campaign, Ramaswamy has woven in more traditional approaches this fall, opening an Iowa campaign headquarters and spending millions of dollars on TV ads. 

Chris Christie

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has largely framed his campaign in opposition to Trump, is lagging behind his rivals in many polls of the nation and of Iowa, though he has outperformed some in New Hampshire, where he has focused his bid. Still, as much of the anti-Trump wing of the party has begun to consolidate around either Haley or DeSantis, some Republicans have urged Christie to drop out of the race. For his part, Christie has said he plans to continue his campaign through next summer’s Republican convention, though he has also said he might reconsider should he do poorly in the Granite State.

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