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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Candidates for first Republican debate face off tonight

After a moment of uncertainty, the first Republican Party debate of the election season today in Ohio promises to have an interesting showing, with hosts, times and finally debaters set.

But of the 17 candidates currently running for the GOP nomination, only 10 will be on stage at the main event, being hosted by Fox at 9 p.m. Those left out will still be given a chance to debate at 5 p.m., although only for an hour compared to the two hours for the main debate.

Notably left out of the main debate are Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who will be delegated to the secondary debate.

Even with two hours in the main debate, that leaves only 12 minutes of speaking time for each candidate, and only if the time is split evenly.

“When you’ve got even 10 candidates on the stage, how much can anybody say that’s going to be anything more than a soundbite?” said political science professor and expert on voting behavior Stephen Craig.

The 10 were chosen through an average of five polls, picked by Fox: Fox, Bloomberg, CBS, Monmouth and Quinnipiac. But the decision was fraught with questions about polling error and chance, particularly with such a saturated field of nationally recognized candidates.

“Each and every candidate’s goal is to connect with the audience in a way that distinguishes them from their opponents,” Craig said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all here; each candidate is going to have his or her own way of trying to do that. Most will fail.”

Kailyn Allen, political science junior and UF College Republicans chairwoman, agrees, saying the debate is an opportunity to showcase their differences. Right now, name recognition seems to be the biggest factor, and that’s why Trump is the frontrunner, Allen, 20, said.

One thing remains clear, though: Media coverage is the absolute highest priority for the candidates, Craig said. If you don’t get covered, you don’t win.

“Having name recognition is a huge advantage at this stage of the game,” Craig said. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to win, but it’s a reason why people like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are distancing themselves from their rivals.”

It’s for this reason that Allen and many others believe that Trump’s numbers will fall after the debate. He has the most media recognition, Allen said, but his support is mostly among low-information voters.

“He’s such a unique figure that who knows,” Craig said. “I just really don’t think that anybody can predict the trajectory with Trump. We’re in new territory here.” 

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[A version of this story ran on page 15 on 8/5/15]

  • Donald Trump
  • Jeb Bush
  • Scott Walker
  • Marco Rubio
  • Mike Huckabee
  • Ted Cruz
  • Rand Paul
  • Ben Carson
  • Chris Christie
  • John Kasich
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