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Just four Republicans vying for their party’s nomination for president will take to a debate stage in Alabama on Wednesday night, as Donald Trump once again skips the primetime event that is likely to see Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis jockey for second place.
Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, and DeSantis, the current governor of Florida, will be joined by biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the Republican National Committee confirmed, after all four candidates met its polling and donor thresholds.
The event at the University of Alabama will be the fourth RNC-sponsored debate of the election cycle and comes just six weeks before the Iowa caucuses, on January 15, which will fire the starting gun on the Republican primary process.
The Republicans on stage are likely to spar once again on foreign policy, at a time when members of their party on Capitol Hill are squabbling over new funding for Ukraine and Israel.
While Republican lawmakers are split on the question of whether and how to aid Kyiv, they have largely rejected a White House request for a sweeping aid package unless the Biden administration agrees to their demands to clamp down on immigration at the US-Mexico border.
Trump, who polls show leading the pack by a significant margin, has refused to participate in any of the four RNC debates. The former president, who remains the clear frontrunner in the race, is expected to meet donors in Florida while the Alabama forum is taking place.
Haley will be looking to capitalise on the momentum behind her bid for the White House. She is now polling second behind Trump in the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and her home state of South Carolina. That has attracted the attention of deep-pocketed Republican donors looking for an alternative to Trump, as well as a handful of high-profile Democratic donors.
Jamie Dimon, the JPMorgan Chase chief executive, last week publicly urged Democrats to support Haley in the primary, arguing she would be a better option than Trump.
On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn founder and prominent Democratic donor, has given $250,000 to a super Pac supporting Haley. A political adviser to Hoffman later confirmed to the Financial Times that the donation had been made in the past two weeks.
The debate is another opportunity for DeSantis to revive his flailing campaign. The Florida governor was once seen as the Republican best positioned to challenge Trump for the party’s presidential nomination, especially after he cruised to re-election by a near 20-point margin in last year’s midterm elections.
But DeSantis’s presidential bid has struggled since he launched it in May of this year, and Never Back Down, the super Pac supporting DeSantis’s push for the White House, has been plagued by infighting and dysfunction in recent weeks.
DeSantis campaign officials have dismissed the churn at the super Pac — which has seen the departure of two chief executives and a chair in the last month — and insisted the Florida governor remains focused on his efforts to win over voters.
DeSantis has centred his campaigning largely on Iowa, where evangelical voters make up a large share of the Republican primary electorate. He has picked up the endorsement of Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s popular Republican governor, and influential Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats, in recent weeks.
Source: Financial Times