US presidential hopefuls are set to take the stage for the fourth debate in the 2024 Republican primary, with the race narrowing to a head-to-head battle to be the main alternative to frontrunner Donald Trump.
Four candidates will be on stage at the University of Alabama for their last scheduled meeting before the Iowa caucuses kick off the United States presidential nominating season next month.
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Candidate dropouts and Trump’s clear stance on not attending the debates have left the battle between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
The debate will be held at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa city at 7pm (01:00 GMT) on Wednesday.
Former President Donald Trump is running to retake the White House despite facing 91 felony charges.
Spotlight on Haley and DeSantis
With Trump up by more than 40 percentage points in most opinion polls, DeSantis and Haley are in a rush to establish themselves as the obvious alternative for voters looking to move beyond the former president.
Ramaswamy and Christie will also take the debate stage – but the spotlight will be on DeSantis and Haley.
“The two people on the stage that have a shot at challenging Trump one-on-one are DeSantis and Haley,” said David Kochel, a longtime Republican strategist in Iowa.
DeSantis holds a small advantage over Haley in national polls. But Haley has been closing the gap, and has a substantial edge over DeSantis in New Hampshire and her home state of South Carolina – crucial states in the nomination battle because they’re among the first to pick a nominee.
The two are effectively tied in Iowa, where the first Republican contest will be held on January 15.
With no additional debates currently scheduled, Wednesday’s televised clash could be the last chance for Haley or DeSantis to land lasting blows against their opponents in front of a national audience.
Much of Haley’s momentum has been credited to strong performances in the previous three debates, and she is riding high on a key endorsement from the powerful Koch family and $250,000 from LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, a major Democratic donor.
In a sign of the DeSantis camp’s eagerness to gain back ground from Haley, spokesman Bryan Griffin slammed the donation as evidence she is actually “a liberal”.
“She would let corporations set immigration policy, roll out the red carpet for China, hike taxes on hardworking Americans, and require social media users to register with the government,” he said.
Haley received plaudits for the way in which she handled a heated exchange over foreign policy with Ramaswamy during the first debate in August. But more recent exchanges between them have been more of a wash for both candidates, and have devolved into personal attacks.
Former Governor Christie barely met the minimum polling thresholds set by the Republican National Committee to qualify for the debate. The former federal prosecutor once supported Trump, but has become one of his most vocal opponents and will likely attack the former president on stage.