The Republican presidential candidates are heading to Democratic country tonight for their third debate, which will be held in Boulder, CO. Here’s what we’ll be looking for during tonight’s two-hour event:
— Does anyone attack another candidate in their “lane?” The GOP debates have sparked some memorable confrontations so far: Donald Trump versus Jeb Bush or Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie versus Rand Paul, and so on. But most of the sparring we’ve seen has been across different wings of the GOP bracket, not within them. Ted Cruz, for example, has been reluctant to criticize Trump for fear of alienating his supporters. But at the end of the day, the candidates in the different wings are in more direct competition with each other for voters, and it may only be a matter of time before that competition breaks into public view.
— Does Fiorina spark another bump? The consensus winner of the last GOP debate has faded in the polls and the media since then, but she has showed the ability to take over a debate—one we haven’t seen from another candidate yet. Maybe she’s no longer fresh in voters’ minds, but another strong debate could boost Fiorina yet again. Meanwhile, Ben Carson’s soft-spoken performances have confused media observers, but he has also gotten big boosts after each of the first two debates.
— Does Bush give his supporters something to latch onto? Bush’s big-money supporters have grown restless in the first month of fall, something you can spot in the griping anonymous quotes or in the Bush super PAC’s decision to start airing national TV ads in addition to ones focused on early states—something strategist Mike Murphy had previously derided. Yet again, the debate offers him a chance to remind Republicans why they once saw him as the undisputed establishment frontrunner.
After this, it’s off to South Carolina for the next Democratic debate. But we’ve got the Colorado GOP debate (not to mention some World Series baseball) to keep an eye on first.
— Scott Bland