MIAMI (NewsNation) — Republican White House hopefuls will assemble Wednesday for the third presidential primary debate, as they seek to cut into former President Donald Trump’s lead without being able to challenge the former president in person.
Trump will again skip the debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, instead holding a rally in a nearby suburb. He said he won’t participate due to his large lead in national and early state polls.
“This is a huge opportunity for them to strengthen their position in the primary,” said Dr. Trish Crouse, a University of New Haven professor of political science and public administration.
The field of candidates onstage for the third debate will be the smallest yet. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will take the stage at 8 p.m. ET.
As the candidate field narrows, the array of significant debate topics expands. This debate marks the first since the commencement of the Israel-Hamas war, placing foreign affairs at the forefront of discussions.
Haley has seen a significant boost in popularity since the second debate in September, which could make her a potential target during the debate.
Although it may appear to be a home-field advantage for DeSantis, many believe that he faces a more significant uphill battle in the race.
He’s seen a decline in his poll numbers; however, many believe his recent endorsement by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
Political experts suggest that DeSantis needs a strong performance to fend off Haley and secure the second spot in the GOP race for the White House.
“I do think that of all of them that are going to be on the stage for the debate, I believe, Nikki Haley and Chris Christie are the ones that have been able to distinguish themselves more clearly, at least in the policy arena,” Crouse said.
Ramaswamy has run as a potential inheritor to Trump’s “America First” mantle. He said he wants the U.S. to avoid so-called “forever wars” and focus on China, while also telling the Republican Jewish Coalition that he would “love nothing more” than for Israel “to put the heads of the top 100 Hamas leaders on stakes and line them up on the Israel-Gaza border.”
Christie, the former New Jersey governor, has focused almost exclusively on New Hampshire’s primary and become the race’s most vocal critic of Trump.
And Scott is hoping for a strong finish in Iowa, where he’s courting the state’s white evangelical voters and spending millions on ads leading up to the Jan. 15 caucuses.
Wednesday’s debate is also two weeks away from the upheaval in the House GOP Conference, and front-runner Trump remains active in court appearances but notably absent from the debate stage.
“I think in his mind, I think that he believes his record stands for itself. Therefore, he doesn’t have to debate the other candidates,” Crouse said.
The two-hour debate will be moderated by NBC News anchors Lester Holt and Kristen Welker and conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt, who hosts a morning talk show for the Salem Radio Network.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.