With America less than three weeks from the first votes of the 2016 election season, all eyes will be on Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz as seven GOP candidates converge on North Charleston, South Carolina, Thursday for a high-stakes debate before the Iowa caucuses.
It’s especially a big night tonight in the race for the nomination, as the two top GOP heavy weights square off in the sixth Republican debate and the first of 2016. The prime-time event will be hosted by Fox Business Network at 9 p.m. EST. Viewers can watch the event on the Fox Business Network, by livestream on FoxBusiness.com or on the Fox News app.
The candidates who will be on the main debate stage include Trump, Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina were moved to an earlier undercard debate at 6 p.m. EST with former Pennsylvanian Sen. Rick Santorum. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul chose to sit out of the earlier debate after losing an appeal to Fox Business Network to appear in the main event.
Fox Business Network anchor Neil Cavuto and anchor Maria Bartiromo will moderate the big debate. Anchors Trish Regan and Sandra Smith will moderate the undercard event. FBN says it will focus on economic, domestic and international policy issues.
Trump versus Cruz on eligibility?
The two leading contenders have been locked in a war of words after Trump questioned Cruz’s eligibility to be president, saying it’s a “very precarious” issue because the Texas senator was born in Alberta, Canada, to an America mother and Cuban father. Cruz gave up any claim to Canadian citizenship in 2014.
“Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the question: ‘Do we want a candidate who could be tied up in court for two years?’ That’d be a big problem. It’d be a very precarious one for Republicans because he’d be running and the courts may take a long time to make a decision,” Trump said. “You don’t want to be running and have that kind of thing over your head.”
Cruz has said it is “settled law” that a child born to a U.S. citizen, even if they are abroad at the time, is a “natural born citizen,” as required by the Constitution.
On Tuesday, Cruz even suggested Democrats are behind Trump’s decision to question his eligibility.
“I will say it is more than a little strange to see Donald relying on as authoritative a liberal, left-wing, judicial activist Harvard law professor who is a huge Hillary supporter,” Cruz told reporters in New Hampshire in reference to a legal analysis by Harvard Law professor Lawrence Tribe. “It starts to make you think, ‘Gosh, why are some of Hillary’s strongest supporters backing Donald Trump?”
Cruz also said Democrats are eager to support Trump because they think their nominee can beat the billionaire in the general election.
“You know, the last couple of elections, you’ll recall the Democrats got the nominee they wanted to run against in the general election,” he said. “It seems the Hillary folks are very eager to support Donald Trump and the attacks that are being tossed in my direction.”
Republican strategist Ford O’Connell told the Hill he plans to will be watching Trump and Cruz Thursday night, as the two contend in Iowa.
“At the end of the day, it’s whether or not Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are going to finally take the gloves off on the debate stage and go after each other because they are neck and neck in a lot of polls, and one of them wants to become the nominee,” O’Connell said.
Iowa, New Hampshire and national polling
In RealClearPolitics’ Iowa Republican presidential caucus polling average, Cruz is barely leading Trump, 26.7 to 26.2 percent. And in New Hampshire, Trump was trouncing Cruz 30.2 to 10.8 percent.
In national polling, Trump was surging ahead of the rest of the GOP pack at 35 percent in the RealClearPolitics average Wednesday evening. Cruz came in at 19 percent. Rubio garnered 11.3 percent and Carson, 8 percent. Bush dropped to 4.7 percent. Christie came in at 3 percent and Fiorina, 2.7 percent. Kasich, Paul and Huckabee landed at 2 percent and Santorum at 0 percent.
The debate is possibly Rubio’s best shot at claiming the mantle of the GOP’s best “establishment” candidate.