TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The fourth Republican debate on Wednesday in Alabama is both starkly different and strikingly similar to the previous three GOP showdowns.
The 8 p.m. NewsNation debate will feature the smallest stage yet, with just four candidates as the field tightens. It’s also the first in the heart of the Deep South after previous events in swing-state Milwaukee, blue Los Angeles and bustling Miami.
Like its predecessors, it will feature Republican rivals fighting to assert themselves as Donald Trump’s foremost rival. And like its predecessors, it will go on without the former president, who plans to boycott the event, confident in national and state polls that show him with a commanding lead.
The previous debates have had only limited impact on the GOP race, as each Republican strove for an elusive breakout moment amid declining audiences and waning interest.
Even so, the debate Wednesday at the University of Alabama’s Moody Music Hall could offer voters a clearer view of Trump’s top Republican alternatives thanks to the strictest candidate qualification requirements yet and a smaller group of candidates.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy will share the stage in what could be the last debate sponsored by the Republican National Committee.
Here’s what to watch:
A SMALLER FIELD. The long-awaited winnowing of the Republican race has begun after U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and former Vice President Mike Pence suspended their campaigns. This week, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum tapped out, too.
That means there’s more airtime for the four other contenders to promote their policies, highlight their differences with Trump and clash among themselves.
But Trump’s boycott has also lessened the stakes and alienated viewers. The audience has sunk from nearly 13 million viewers in the Fox News clash in Milwaukee in August — on the eve of Trump’s surrender to Georgia authorities — to about 7.5 million for last month’s Miami event.
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