From Boulder, Colorado
With new polls raising questions about the lead of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, Republicans running for President gather here in the Centennial State for their third debate, with just over three months until voters make their first choices in the 2016 race for the White House.
Trump warmed up with a rally in Iowa, where recent polls show that he has fallen behind Ben Carson in the nation’s first caucus state.
“Do me a favor. Let me win Iowa,” Trump said, as he reminded Iowa voters that the last two winners of that state had not gone on to gain the GOP nomination.
Trump will stand next to Carson for a second straight debate; the two men did not lock horns last time at the Reagan Library in California, and it wasn’t clear if they would in this CNBC debate on Wednesday night.
Here is a quick look at each candidate:
Donald Trump – Trump has been the center of attention in both Republican debates; the first was a big win for him, while he seemed to be more human in the second debate. Will Trump go after Carson, or will he keep throwing jabs at just about anyone up on the main stage? In the last debate, Trump bragged that he was ahead in every poll. He can’t make that same claim this time around.
Ben Carson – Carson has been on a steady climb the last two months, seemingly breaking through in Iowa in recent polls. His cool and calm demeanor would not suggest that he will suddenly go on the attack against Trump or anyone else – but will Trump try to take him down a peg or two? Another wild card – will Carson face tougher questions because he has surged in the race of late?
Jeb Bush – Bush has been sliding since the first debate, as his efforts to take on Trump directly have produced mixed results so far. One might expect that Trump will return to his own game plan of using Bush as a political punching bag, which could put Bush on the defensive, or maybe give him a chance to shine. “Jeb is in big trouble,” was the headline of a conservative email making the rounds on Tuesday – and certainly Bush seems like he needs a better debate this time.
Marco Rubio – Rubio has been slowly moving up in the polls since the first debate in August, and now finds himself at the top of the second tier. For the most part, Rubio has stayed out of the way of Trump and Bush, but has been able to quietly score points with debate viewers. One could argue that the Florida Senator does not need to make any waves in this debate, or else he might jeopardize his good position.
Ted Cruz – Cruz backers really like where their candidate is right now, as he has been drafting off of Trump and Carson, seemingly waiting until one of those two players runs off the road. Look for Cruz to work in criticism of GOP leaders in the Congress again, especially if the subject of a just announced two year budget deal comes up at this debate. “This is not a ‘grand bargain’ or negotiation — it is complete and utter surrender,” Cruz said, blasting the deal as Speaker John Boehner’s “golden parachute.”
Rand Paul – Like others below Rubio and Cruz, the Kentucky Senator has struggled to stay relevant in this race, as there have even been recent stories that Paul is being urged to concentrate on his re-election bid for U.S. Senate instead. Paul has tried in both debates to engage Trump – but it really hasn’t worked to his advantage. We’ll see if Paul steers clear of The Donald or not.
Carly Fiorina – Five weeks ago, Fiorina seemingly was going places in this race. She ‘won’ the pre-debate debate in Cleveland and worked her way up to the main stage last time out at the Reagan Library, but has not been able to capitalize on those achievements. Fiorina will go to Iowa for an extended campaign swing later this week, but her poll numbers have been going the wrong way over the last five weeks, both nationally and in key states.
Mike Huckabee – The winner of Iowa from 2008 has not shined yet in the first two GOP debates. His poll numbers have been stuck in the middle single digits, and in between the debates, Huckabee has at times disappeared from the daily conversation. It would seem like that the former Arkansas Governor can’t go on forever without trying to make a splash, as so far Carson and Cruz have more than outmaneuvered him for support among evangelical voters in Iowa.
John Kasich – The Ohio Governor seemed to get a good start at the first debate in Cleveland, but has struggled to stay in the national conversation since. Kasich’s poll numbers are better than most in New Hampshire, but that’s about all he has to show at this point in time, and it may be that Kasich is about ready to take the gloves off. “I’m done being polite,” Kasich said at a send off rally in Ohio on Tuesday.
Chris Christie – When the most notable thing of late that you have done is to get ushered out of the ‘quiet car’ on the Amtrak train, that says more than enough about Christie’s bid for the White House. The New Jersey Governor has had some good exchanges at times in the first two debates, but he has not been able to use his familiarity with major news media organizations to boost his candidacy. The best that Christie has done in any major poll of late is 5 percent in New Hampshire.
The GOP Undercard Field – Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki and Lindsey Graham will again anchor the pre-debate debate in this Republican gathering. None of them has been able to generate much in the way of press; the only reason Graham got in the debate was by getting 1 percent in the CNN poll – otherwise he was shut out. This foursome of Republicans needs something big to happen, and it’s not clear that will be the result in Boulder on Wednesday night.