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The DeSantis-Haley cagematch for second place is about to begin

6 months ago 89

People arrive to attend the third 2024 Republican presidential primary debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Fla., Nov. 8, 2023. | Francis Chung/POLITICO

There will be five Republican presidential candidates on stage Wednesday evening, but the focus tonight will likely fall on just two: Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, who have been tearing into each other for weeks.

Tonight’s debate in Miami comes as Haley has eclipsed DeSantis in New Hampshire and come neck and neck with him in Iowa — a primary where no one has managed to consolidate the non-Donald Trump vote.

In the run-up to the debate, the two respective camps and their allied super PACs released a series of videos attacking the other on China, the war in Israel and even fracking, including spending millions of dollars on television ads to tear down the other.

A person familiar with the Haley team’s debate strategy and granted anonymity to speak freely said they are anticipating DeSantis and the rest of the stage to go after the former South Carolina governor with a fury Wednesday night. DeSantis, the Florida governor, is at a critical juncture, needing to establish momentum and change the trajectory of his campaign after months of sagging polling.

But the whole affair will also fall in the shadow of the Republican frontrunner, who has refused to participate in any primary debates so far and is holding his own counterprogramming just 10 miles away in Hialeah.

Below, we will be posting highlights of Wednesday’s debate.

The sleepy scene outside the GOP debate

The scene outside of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, the site of tonight’s Republican presidential debate, was pretty much dead; a reflection, perhaps, of the lack of drama that has come to define these forums where former President Donald Trump doesn’t participate.

No protesters held signs. No crush of onlookers were there gawking for a glimpse of the who’s who making their way to a venue.

Ten miles away, the undisputed frontrunner was hosting a rally, giving the actual debate a type of undercard feel to it. But if the RNC had complaints that the media gaze was on Trump, that might have been partially their own fault. The media filing center Wednesday evening was a half-mile away from the debate site.

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