The stage is set for the next Republican presidential debate. Outspoken billionaire Donald Trump is proving more popular than ever, but the list of those posing a challenge to his White House aspirations is shifting and this debate could change the race — a race that is more than 400 days from its finish.
The Republican candidates will face off on Wednesday, in a debate hosted by CNN at the Ronald Regan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
This time, there will be more candidates taking part in the main prime time debate and fewer in the earlier debate for those who don’t have the public support but still have their hats planted in the presidential hopeful ring — often referred to in the media as the “Happy Hour” or “kids’ table” debate.
Here’s what you need to know about the debate and what’s changed since the last one.
Donald Trump is even further ahead
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to the crowd as he leaves a rally organized by Tea Party Patriots in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to the crowd as he leaves a rally organized by Tea Party Patriots in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015.
Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo
As with last month’s debate, Trump will stand centre stage when the debate gets underway Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.
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Three polls released in the lead up to the CNN debate show Trump remains, at this point, the man to beat for the Republican nomination.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll published Monday showed support for Trump hitting a new high, with 33 per cent of Republicans and “Republican-leaning independents” backing the former reality TV star — a 9 per cent rise from a poll conducted ahead of the Fox News debate on Aug. 6.
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A second poll released Monday, by Monmouth University, also gave the billionaire a wide lead, with the support of 28 per cent of Republican or “likely Republican” voters in the key state of New Hampshire.
And even in a New York Times/CBS News poll out Tuesday that put Trump slightly lower at 27 per cent support nationally, he’s still several points ahead of his closest rival.
Ben Carson moves closer to centre stage
In this Aug. 27, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks in Little Rock, Ark. August is typically one of the worst fundraising months for any politician. But it was Ben Carson’s best yet. Danny Johnston/AP Photo
In this Aug. 27, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks in Little Rock, Ark. August is typically one of the worst fundraising months for any politician. But it was Ben Carson’s best yet.
Danny Johnston/AP Photo
Trump was flanked by rivals Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker during the last debate, but their political fortunes have lost some luster since that time.
Bush will be at Trump’s side once again, but lagging behind in third place according to the Washington Post/ABC News poll, with just 8 per cent support, and further behind in the Monmouth University poll, tied for fifth place with 7 per cent.
The change is not just due to Trump but a surge by fellow political outsider Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who was the first person to separate conjoined twins who were joined at the head.
Carson had single-digit support going into the Fox News debate, but still made it to the main stage with the other Top 10 candidates. This time, he’s solidly in second place.
Tuesday’s New York Times/CBS News poll showed Carson is just 4 percentage points behind Trump, with 23 per cent support among Republicans nationally.
The Washington Post/ABC News and the Monmouth University polls also indicated a growing number of Republicans and Republican-oriented voters are getting behind the former director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, garnering 20 per cent and 17 per cent support in the respective polls.
And if an earlier Monmouth University poll is any indication, Carson is, at this point, Trump’s biggest threat.
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Poll results released Aug. 31 put Carson and Trump neck-and-neck in Iowa, where primary and caucus season kicks off on Feb. 1, 2016.
Carly Fiorina gets a spot in prime time and has Trump in her sights
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive waves as she and supporters march in the Labor Day parade Monday, Sept. 7, 2015, in Milford, N.H. Jim Cole/AP Photo
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive waves as she and supporters march in the Labor Day parade Monday, Sept. 7, 2015, in Milford, N.H.
Jim Cole/AP Photo
Like Carson, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina’s star began shining brighter after the previous debate. In fact, Fiorina’s performance in the early debate — she didn’t have the support to make it to the main debate at that time —was considered among the best of the bunch.
Her performance earned her some gains in the polls, enough to warrant her becoming the 11th person on the stage. There should be 10, but thanks to a lack of polls in the weeks following the Fox News debate, Fiorina was able to edge her way in with an average of 2.2 per cent support from 14 polls over two months.
But the sole woman bidding for the GOP nomination has moved ahead of some of the Republican heavyweights she’s challenging: the Monmouth University poll has her tied with Jeb Bush for fifth place in New Hampshire while the Washington Post/ABC News poll has her at 2 per cent support, ahead of Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
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Fiorina might not be a threat to Trump, but the two candidates have been engaged in a pre-debate war of words in recent days.
Trump took what some saw as a sexist jab at the businesswoman, asking: “Would you vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”
But, Fiorina said she’s ready to take on “the entertainer who’s running for office.”
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The ‘kids’ table’ gets smaller
With Fiorina moving into the main debate, the slate of also-running presidential hopefuls taking part in the earlier debate was already down by one. But that crowd shrunk even further with former Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropping out of the race altogether.
Perry was in the early debate last time and with less than 2 per cent support by the Thursday deadline, he called it quits.
He was, however, at the front of the pack that was trailing behind. Now taking the stage at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday are former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
And not taking the stage at all is 16th Republican candidate Jim Gilmore. The former governor of Virginia took part in the early Fox News debate, despite only jumping into the race just one week earlier. With less than 1 per cent support, he didn’t qualify to take part in the CNN debate.
Also taking part in the primetime debate are Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky congressman Rand Paul, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
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