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Five Republican candidates for US president will take to the debate stage in Miami, Florida, on Wednesday night, while the undisputed frontrunner, former president Donald Trump, will skip the event and hold a campaign rally on the other side of the city.
The Republican debate comes just one day after voters delivered the Democrats big wins in several closely watched off-year elections, including electing a Democratic governor in the conservative state of Kentucky, and giving Democrats control of Virginia’s state legislature. The results were driven in large part because voters rejected Republican proposals to severely limit access to abortion.
Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey and one of five Republican candidates set to appear on Wednesday’s debate stage, blamed Trump for the party’s disappointing performances at the ballot box.
“Trump endorsed candidate Daniel Cameron loses the governor’s race in DEEP RED Kentucky,” Christie said on X, formerly Twitter, as the results rolled in on Tuesday night. “The losing will only end for Republicans if we rid ourselves of Donald Trump.”
Wednesday night’s debate will be the third primetime event organised by the Republican National Committee, following debates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Simi Valley, California.
It will also be the first time that the Republican candidates share a platform since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, making foreign policy a likely flashpoint on the stage.
The debate will also be the third time that Trump, who leads his opponents by double-digit margins in all major opinion polls, avoids the event. He will instead hold a rally, also in Miami, at the same time.
Trump and his allies say he does not need to participate in the debates given the scale of his lead in the polls.
According to the FiveThirtyEight average of national opinion polls, the former president enjoys the support of nearly 57 per cent of Republican primary voters, with Florida governor Ron DeSantis trailing in a distant second place, on 14 per cent.
Nikki Haley, the former UN ambassador, is in third place on 9 points, followed by biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy on just over 5 points.
Trump’s opponents have argued that even if the former president can win a Republican primary contest, he is ill equipped to win in a general election contest against US president Joe Biden. But Trump has been buoyed in recent weeks by several opinion polls that show him beating Biden in a hypothetical match-up.
DeSantis, Haley, Christie and Ramaswamy will be joined on the debate stage in Miami by South Carolina senator Tim Scott.
It will be a smaller stage than previous debates after former vice-president Mike Pence dropped out of the race last month and North Dakota governor Doug Burgum and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson failed to meet the RNC’s polling and donor requirements.
DeSantis is looking to revive a campaign that has failed to live up to high expectations stemming from his strong election performance in last year’s midterms, when he was re-elected by a nearly 20-point margin and was almost immediately seen as the most viable alternative to Trump.
Yet DeSantis’s campaign has struggled amid a series of public errors, alienating voters and deep-pocketed donors alike. On Wednesday, the Financial Times reported that DeSantis’s biggest donor, property tycoon Robert Bigelow, was now considering backing Trump instead.
DeSantis received a welcome boost this week, however, with the endorsement of Kim Reynolds, the governor of Iowa, the key early voting state that will kick off the primary process in January with the Iowa caucuses.
Haley, meanwhile, will look to catapult her campaign, having steadily improved her polling numbers in recent months. The former UN ambassador and one-time governor of South Carolina has sought to position herself as the most experienced candidate when it comes to foreign policy.