Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is currently polling in second place in Iowa with 23 percent according to a new Monmouth University Poll, and some of his fellow Republican candidates will get one last chance to sell themselves to Iowa on Thursday before the first-in-the-nation caucuses on Monday. The pressure and necessity to do well is not the only difference between this debate – the party's seventh – and previous face-offs, however. Frontrunner Donald Trump, who is polling at 30 percent, will not take part because Megyn Kelly is slated to be the moderator, which means Cruz will be able to take on the establishment candidates – former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush, Fla. Sen. Marco Rubio, N.J. Gov. Chris Christie and to a lesser extent Ohio Gov. John Kasich – without having to deal with the real estate mogul. (Kasich is to a "lesser extent" because he may be too moderate for the establishment, but he is still part of the group because he does not belong to a different faction.)
The other candidates who will be on the stage for the main debate are: Ky. Sen. Rand Paul – who has said he would participate – and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former Pa. Sen. Rick Santorum, former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Va. Sen. Jim Gilmore have been invited to the early debate.
Cruz is trying to keep the Evangelical vote, which is his main source of support, while trying to fight for the uncommitted. That, however, may be more difficult because the uncommitted are most likely not from the Evangelical voting bloc. Because he will not have to deal with Trump, he will not have to worry about fighting back. Cruz will also not have to directly worry about competing with Trump over who is more conservative and about attacking the establishment for being part of the establishment, which is something that plays into his base.
Trump's absence, which may not allow him to attract new supporters, may not be entirely bad for him because he will be seen as not giving into the "liberal media." Even though it is Fox News, his supporters may see it as part of the "liberal media," at least in part, because it is establishment and it plays into the stereotype.
He will be doing something patriotic – "host[ing] an event in Iowa to raise money for the Veterans and Wounded Warriors, who have been treated so horribly by our all talk, no action politicians," according to his campaign – and something else in Iowa, which could be seen as positives.
That is, however, unless his supporters side with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The founder and CEO – Paul Rieckhoff – tweeted "If offered, @IAVA will decline donations from Trump's event. We need strong policies from candidates, not to be used for political stunts."
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The main fights, and perhaps the aspect of the debate that is the most important, will those among the establishment candidates. Even though the establishment is not very defined, if defined at all, these three candidates are vying for support from that portion of the party, which is comprised of the more traditional Republicans – not the ultra-conservative, libertarian or religious factions. In essence, these three or four – if Kasich is counted – are fighting for the uncommitted, non-Evangelical vote. (The members of the religious factions will likely caucus for Cruz or Carson.)
According to a Monmouth University Poll released on Wednesday, Rubio is leading the establishment crowd with 16 percent, followed by Bush with four percent, Kasich with three percent and Christie with two percent.
A third place finish in Iowa would be like a first place finish because it is realistically unachievable to get anything higher than that since Trump and Cruz are unlikely to move. It would also be first place among the establishment candidates.
These candidates are essentially splitting the vote from one another, and Iowa is the first step in weeding people out,and uniting behind one of the establishment candidates. The candidate from this group who comes out victorious, relatively speaking, could see a shift of momentum in their favor in New Hampshire, the state with the first-in-nation primary, which will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 9.
No matter what the topics are, all of the candidates will be trying to prove to the people of Iowa why they are the one who should be caucused for. Cruz will appeal to the extreme of the parties by linking the others to the establishment, saying he is anti-immigration and anti-big government. He will also, more likely than not, include God or religion in at least one answer.
The establishment candidates will try to link Cruz to what is wrong with government, and Christie in particular will use his experience as U.S. attorney and governor to his advantage; the former by citing his knowledge of national security and terrorism, and the latter by saying that governors get things done while those in Washington just argue.
Bush and Rubio will tout their conservative records, and Kasich will say that he improved Ohio's economy.
All of the candidates will say they are better than Democratic candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They may even include Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders in that statement now because of his rising poll numbers.
The Fox News/Google GOP Debate will be held at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines. The early debate will start at 4 p.m. Pacific Time while the prime time debate starts at 6 p.m. Pacific Time.