BOULDER, Colorado—They attacked Obamacare. They vowed to get tough with Russia. They ridiculed Hillary Clinton and called her a socialist. They did all the things that Republicans running for president are supposed to do.
And yet, for the third time in as many months, the lowest-polling GOP candidates Wednesday had their moment in the limelight before the limelights were actually turned on, participating in the third “kids table” debate preceding the main event featuring 10 higher-polling candidates.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal bragged that he was the only one to cut the size of government. Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said he had already proven how he can get things done in Washington during his tenure in Congress. Former New York Gov. George Pataki pointed to his ability to work with Democrats.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina held one fist up, one open hand, and vowed to use both to make the world respect America again. “So, to the Chinese, when it comes to dealing with me, you’ve got a clenched fist and an open hand. You pick. The party is over to all the dictators. Make me commander in chief and this crap stops,” he promised.
Whether enough Republican voters were paying attention to make a difference is an open question. The previous two second-tier debates each drew about 6 million viewers, about one-fourth of the number who tuned in for the prime-time events later.
The same four had also shared the stage at the last debate at the Reagan Library in Southern California in September, and in Cleveland in August. Only at that first debate, there had been three others: former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.
Perry dropped out of the race not long afterward. Gilmore is still running, but is polling so poorly that he hasn’t even been invited to the undercard debates. And Fiorina, thanks to her well-received performance in the first debate, was promoted to the main event—the only candidate to have jumped in either direction.
Graham, who won widespread praise for his strong performance in the September debate, saw no noticeable change in his polling numbers afterward, and none of the four candidates appeared to offer a standout performance Wednesday.
The four candidates are at 2 percent in an average of recent national polls—combined. Of those, Graham is the highest with 1 percent, and Jindal and Pataki are each at 0.2 percent.
The second-tier debate contestants have complained about the value of national polls in deciding who makes which stage, arguing that polls this early are suspect in general, and national polls are particularly meaningless because the candidates are spending much of their time in just the few, early-voting states.
But the four have also done poorly in another important gauge of strength, their fundraising. They have cumulatively raised just over just over $3 million in the three months that ended Sept. 30, and started the final quarter of the year with $2.7 million in the bank.
In contrast, the four candidates with the biggest bank balances—Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio —among them began October with $45 million on hand.
RNC officials nevertheless say the “undercard” event will remain through the final two debates this year: Milwaukee on Nov. 10 and Las Vegas on Dec. 15.
What We're Following See More »
"Saudi Arabia said Saturday that Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident Saudi journalist who disappeared more than two weeks ago, had died after an argument and fistfight with unidentified men inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Eighteen men have been arrested and are being investigated in the case, Saudi state-run media reported without identifying any of them. State media also reported that Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, the deputy director of Saudi intelligence, and other high-ranking intelligence officials had been dismissed."
"Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is scrutinizing how a collection of activists and pundits intersected with WikiLeaks, the website that U.S. officials say was the primary conduit for publishing materials stolen by Russia, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Mueller’s team has recently questioned witnesses about the activities of longtime Trump confidante Roger Stone, including his contacts with WikiLeaks, and has obtained telephone records, according to the people familiar with the matter."
"Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expected to issue findings on core aspects of his Russia probe soon after the November midterm elections ... Specifically, Mueller is close to rendering judgment on two of the most explosive aspects of his inquiry: whether there were clear incidents of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, and whether the president took any actions that constitute obstruction of justice." Mueller has faced pressure to wrap up the investigation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, said an official, who would receive the results of the investigation and have "some discretion in deciding what is relayed to Congress and what is publicly released," if he remains at his post.
"The Justice Department on Friday charged a Russian woman for her alleged role in a conspiracy to interfere with the 2018 U.S. election, marking the first criminal case prosecutors have brought against a foreign national for interfering in the upcoming midterms. Elena Khusyaynova, 44, was charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. Prosecutors said she managed the finances of 'Project Lakhta,' a foreign influence operation they said was designed 'to sow discord in the U.S. political system' by pushing arguments and misinformation online about a host of divisive political issues, including immigration, the Confederate flag, gun control and the National Football League national-anthem protests."