The Republican Party’s jam-packed presidential class faces off Monday night in New Hampshire, where more than a dozen White House hopefuls aim to warm up for the first full-fledged debate of the primary season.
The forum will bring together almost all of the 17 major Republican candidates for president for a debate-lite event, which unlike Thursday’s nationally televised debate in Cleveland doesn’t have a cut-off for participation.
“It’s a great event because it has all the candidates on stage at the same time,” said Steve Duprey, New Hampshire’srepresentative to the Republican National Committee. “It treats allcandidates equally.”
In all, 14 Republican presidential candidates are scheduled to participate, a group that includes seven current or former governors, four senators, a businesswoman, a retired neurosurgeon and one former senator.
Billionaire businessman Donald Trump, who has dominated the GOP primary in recent weeks, is among the three majorcandidates who decided not to join.
The event will be broadcast live on C-SPAN and local television stations in Iowa and South Carolina — states that, along with New Hampshire, will host the first three contests in the presidential primary calendar next February.
Trump declined to attend the New Hampshire event, citing criticism from the local newspaper host, yet he is expected to play a prominent role in Thursday’s formal debate, where only the GOP’s top 10 candidates — as determined by national polls — will be allowed on stage.
The New Hampshire meeting comes amid new movement on politically charged issues.
Just hours before the 7 p.m. forum begins, the Senate is scheduled to vote on a GOP-backed bill to strip funding from Planned Parenthood, reviving a debate on social issues that some Republican officials hoped to avoid in 2016.
Three of the four senators participating in Monday’s event — Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky — will do so via satellite from C-SPAN’s Washington studio so they don’t miss the high-profile vote.
Also on Monday, President Barack Obama unveiled new emissions limits on power plants designed to address climate change, an issue that energizes conservatives and liberals alike.
The candidates will appear on stage one at a time Monday night, answering several questions each from local radio host Jack Heath. The questions are based on submissions from newspaper readers in New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina. Immigration and the economy emerged as the most popular topics in the reader submitted questions, said Trent Spiner, executive editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader.
As the candidates take turns on stage, their rivals will sit side-by-side in the audience. The format is different than the various forums the candidates have attended this year, when they give individual speeches and leave to speak to the press or greet voters instead of watching each other.
Spiner said the speaking order will be determined randomly.
Fourteen ping pong balls adorned with each candidate’s face will be drawn from a jar one at a time to set the order. After the initial round of questions, all the candidates will return to the stage for several more specific questions, giving them a chance to distinguish themselves from the rest of the field, Spiner said.
A camera will be fixed on the line of candidates in the front row, offering viewers a chance to see how they are reacting to their opponents’ messages.
“This is two hours where everyone will be in the same room,” Spiner said. He added, “This forum is important because it lets voters decide who the candidates should be. We don’t use any gimmicks or national polls.”
Several candidates involved Monday night won’t make the cut for Thurdsay’s debate.
Those on the bubble include South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former technology executive Carly Fiorina, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
In several recent visits to New Hampshire, Graham criticized FoxNews’ decision to determine participants based on national polls, saying it takes away from the importance of early voting states.
“National polling is about name ID, it’s about celebrity,” he told reporters after a recent town hall-style meeting in Manchester. “New Hampshire’s about competency and character.”