The first three Republican presidential debates have drawn record audiences. At least so far, they’ve done more to affect the candidates’ standings than millions of dollars spent on field organizations and TV ads. Now the GOP hopefuls are slated to meet again Tuesday night in Milwaukee.
Here are six things to watch.
1. Is Dr. Ben Carson in the hot seat?
The soft-spoken retired neurosurgeon generally has refused to go after his Republican rivals. In the last debate, Donald Trump seemed to pull his punches in return. But since then, there has been a round of stories raising questions about details of Carson’s life storyand some of his more controversial views — including his belief that the pyramids may have been built not as tombs for the pharaohs, but for grain storage by the Biblical Joseph. Those furors provide an opening for Trump or others — if they choose to use them.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks at the Iowa GOP’s Growth and Opportunity Party at the Iowa state fairgrounds in Des Moines on Oct. 31, 2015. (Nati Harnik, AP)
2. Does Marco Rubio keep rising?
He’s gotten momentum from previous debates, and he has moved to address questions about his use of a credit card provided by the Republican Party when he was in the Florida legislature. But Trump has targeted him for everything from a lack of experience to his tendency to sweat.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush at a campaign event on Nov. 3, 2015, in Rye, N.H. (Steven Senne, AP)
3. Can Jeb Bush really fix it?
That is Bush’s new campaign slogan as he scrambles to reverse his declining fortunes. He’s assured big donors and key supporters that he knows he has to improve after disappointing performances in previous debates. The latest furor over his father’s comments about his brother’s White House advisers is just one more unwelcome distraction.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at a No Labels convention on Oct. 12, 2015, in Manchester, N.H. (Jim Cole, AP)
4. Do we notice who’s missing?
Lagging in national polls, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee got bumped to the undercard – though that’s a forum Carly Fiorina used effectively back at the first debate. This time, there will be eight contenders on stage for the main event.
The Nov. 10 debate will focus on jobs, taxes and the economy. (LM Otero, AP)
5. Is it the economy, stupid?
The debate is sponsored by the Fox Business Network and The Wall Street Journal, and they promise to focus on jobs, taxes and the economy. This could be a chance to hear the candidates challenge one another about some of the significant differences among them on tax policy and entitlement programs.
Debate moderators John Harwood, left, Becky Quick and Carl Quintanilla take the stage during the CNBC debate on Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. (Mark J. Terrill, AP)
6. After the uproar over the last debate, do the moderators change course?
The Oct. 28 encounter sponsored by CNBC was blasted by the candidates and others for its format and the tone of the questions. Fox Business Network even ran a TV ad mocking its competitor for not asking ‘the real questions’ or covering the ‘real issues.’ We’ll be watching to see if the debate itself gets better reviews this time.
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