Unless you have been glued to cable news or work in politics, you may not know what’s at stake in Saturday night’s Republican presidential primary debate in Greenville. Here are five things to watch for as the remaining candidates try to sell themselves to voters on the Peace Center stage.
Will Rubio rebound?
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was enjoying momentum out of Iowa, became a debate target for contenders – and did not meet the challenge. In fact, he appeared as robotic as challenger Chris Christie said he was. Rubio’s numbers tumbled in the New Hampshire primary. Christie is gone, but will someone else take up where he left off? Will the well-prepared Rubio show us his extemporaneous skills? If he does, GOP strategist Chip Felkel says he could still be a major contender.
Cruz, the Christian Soldier
Ted Cruz has taken on the evangelical mantle, focusing on faith-based voters. His victory speech in Iowa ended with a throaty appeal to God and the promise of “a new morning.” Look for him to evoke religion a moment or two in the debate. Will he call into question the values and dirty laundry of Donald Trump? Will he play to black evangelical voters at all, (a subgroup that does not always agree with the socially progressive agenda of the Democrats) and continue to try to pull from the Carson base?
Trump, the Southern gentleman?
Donald Trump’s New York state of mind is not a bad thing to the retirees who have transplanted to the Palmetto State. Some of the most vocal leaders in the Tea Party movement in South Carolina are lovingly called “cranky Yankees.”
But can he be as profane or crass in the Bible Belt? Will he temper his approach in the debate or just tease a profane answer? Many Republican voters we talked to approve of his tough talk, and think he can figure out the rest.
Jeb! Jeb. or Jeb?
Bush showed well in a debate in New Hampshire and is comfortable in South Carolina. He has to show well in this debate, just as his former protegé Marco Rubio does. Will he continue to go after Trump? Or will he target Rubio? Will he be battered for bringing his brother in to campaign for him?
The case for Kasich
Like Bush and Rubio, Kasich needs to make the case to stay in the race, but South Carolinians do not know him well enough. That’s unless he can make a huge splash at this debate. He will talk about his accomplishments (all true) but he is a just a nice guy. Will nice guys get any attention in this debate, or in this election?