First Republican presidential debate an ‘awesome opportunity’ for candidates to score breakout moments

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With less than five months to go until the start of the GOP presidential nominating calendar, the Republican White House contenders will face off for the first time on the debate stage Wednesday night.

And with millions of viewers from coast to coast expected to watch the Fox News hosted showdown in Milwaukee, either on TV or online, the debate is a massive opportunity for the candidates on stage to make a major impression.

‘It means a lot for me and every other candidate. It’s going to be the biggest audience any of us have spoken before in a long time,’ former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who’s making his second run for the White House, told Fox News Digital recently. ‘It’s important for people to get to know you, to know who you are, what you want to do for the party and for the country.’

Christie is one of eight candidates who will appear at the Republican National Committee organized debate.

The others are former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former Ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, biotech entrepreneur and bestselling author Vivek Ramaswamy, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

‘It’s obviously an opportunity for us because… of the eight candidates who’ve made the stage, we’re the least well known. By definition that gives us the most upside,’ Burgum, who’s not well known outside North Dakota, highlighted in a recent Fox News Digital interview.

Even Pence, who enjoys strong name recognition among Americans thanks to his four years as vice president, said recently that ‘my hope in that debate is that people may be able to get to know me a little bit better.’

And DeSantis noted in a recent Fox News Radio interview that the debate will ‘give us an opportunity to be able to speak to a large audience of voters who have not yet paid attention to this primary. I mean, you could have 10, 15, 20 million viewers, most of whom have probably never seen any of us in action before.’ 

DeSantis, who’s second in most of the GOP presidential nomination polls, will stand center stage alongside Ramaswamy, a first-time candidate and culture wars crusader whose rise in public opinion surveys is one of the biggest surprises to date in the Republican race. 

Moving out to the left and right will be Pence and Haley, followed by Christie and Scott. Hutchinson and Burgum will be on the wings.

Former President Donald Trump, the commanding front-runner for the 2024 GOP nomination, on Sunday pointed to his large lead over his rivals in announcing that he would not take part in the debate.

A week earlier Trump said he wouldn’t sign the RNC pledge required for contenders to take the stage. The pledge states that candidates will support the GOP’s eventual presidential nominee — regardless of whom it is — and that they won’t take part in any debate not sanctioned by the national party committee.

Also, not on the stage at the first debate will be a handful of other candidates, including one-time CIA spy and former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, former nationally syndicated radio host and 2021 California gubernatorial recall election candidate Larry Elder and Michigan business leader and quality control expert Perry Johnson.

Popular Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, who mulled his own presidential run before deciding against launching a campaign, emphasized that Wednesday’s showdown is ‘an awesome opportunity for all these candidates to stand up — not just to show that they deserve to be on the stage — but to show that they deserve to be the leader of the free world.’

‘That’s really the differentiator. People want someone that inspires them. Some charisma,’ said Sununu, who has debated over a dozen times as he won election and re-election to four two-year terms as New Hampshire governor since 2016. 

Longtime New Hampshire-based GOP consultant Jim Merrill, a veteran of numerous Republican presidential campaigns, emphasized that ‘this debate is enormously important, not only for the top-tier candidates, but for those who have yet to break through. This is the first national opportunity for a lot of these candidates to make an impression on voters.’

David Carney, another Republican consultant with decades of presidential campaign experience, noted that, for the candidates on the stage, ‘the pressure’s high.’

‘They need to think on their feet, look authentic and take the curveballs that come,’ Carney emphasized.

And Gail Gitcho, another veteran of GOP presidential campaigns, highlighted that for the candidates, ‘there’s no reason you should be on that stage and be on defense. You always need to be on offense. You need to anticipate the attacks and come up with a more powerful rejoinder.’

Wednesday’s debate is the first of monthly showdowns organized by the RNC. The next debate is a FOX Business-hosted event at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, on Sept. 27.

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