GREENVILLE, S.C., Feb. 13 (UPI) — The six remaining GOP presidential candidates gather on the debate stage again Saturday, after more vitriol between leading candidates Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
One week away from the South Carolina Republican primary, the pared-down slate of candidates meet in Greenville, S.C., Saturday at 9 p.m. EST in a debate sponsored by CBS News.
After showdowns in Iowa and New Hampshire, the remaining candidates are preparing for a long primary battle in the coming months. Here’s a look at what they’ve been up to since the New Hampshire primary earlier this week.
Trump has laid in to Cruz, who is his most likely rival for the Republican nomination. The two are one for one, with Trump winning New Hampshire this week and Cruz winning Iowa the week before.
Trump once again dominated headlines going into the New Hampshire primary after he called Cruz a vulgar word at a rally the night before. In the days since his victory, Trump has threatened to sue Cruz for “not being a natural born citizen,” referring to earlier questions Trump raised about Cruz’s citizenship due to the fact that he was born in Canada.
No doubt, any friendliness that once existed between the two front runners is long gone.
Sen. Ted Cruz
Cruz has drawn Trump’s ire because of several campaign ads that target the real estate mogul’s support for eminent domain, with one resurrecting Trump’s failed 1998 legal battle to seize the home of Vera Coking to expand his Atlantic City casino. The ad calls the legal fight a “pattern of sleaze” for Trump.
On Friday, Cruz was snubbed by three major Texas newspapers who passed on endorsing the Senator from their state.
“As much as we’d like to see a Texan in the White House,” the Dallas Morning News wrote, opting instead to endorse Ohio Gov. John Kasich, “we fear that Cruz’s brand of politics is more about disruption than governing and threatens to take the Republican Party to a dark place.”
Cruz also continues to take flack for misleading campaign tactics, such as mailing fake checks to solicit donations, and sending out mailers that look like official state documents accusing recipients of committing “voting violations.” Cruz’s campaign also left voicemails with supporters on the eve of the Iowa caucuses falsely telling them that Dr. Ben Carson had dropped out of the race. Carson took Cruz to task for it in the last debate, Cruz apologized but blamed it on CNN which he said reported Carson had dropped out. CNN denies the claim.
Expect Cruz to mention supreme court nominations. Less than two hours after news broke that Justice Antonin Scalia had died, Cruz tweeted: “Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.”
Sen. Marco Rubio
Rubio placed fifth in the New Hampshire primary after a New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hammered Rubio in the last debate. After slamming Rubio for repeating prepared remarks, “Rubio-bots” have been following him on the campaign trail.
The debate performance raised questions about Rubio’s grace under pressure, or lack thereof. In the heated exchange with Christie, Rubio did indeed repeat himself four times. Moments later, the Florida senator could be seen sweating profusely. Author McKay Coppins wrote: “Though generally seen as cool-headed and quick on his feet, Rubio is known to friends, allies, and advisers for a kind of incurable anxiousness — and an occasional propensity to panic in moments of crisis, both real and imagined.”
Dr. Ben Carson
South Carolina may be a comeback state for Carson, where his Evangelical appeal may once again become an asset for him. Even still, it will be an uphill battle. Carson polls at 6 percent on average, according to RealClear Politics, the lowest of any candidate.
Another hurdle for Carson on Saturday is his relative obscurity in debates. Conservative news site Breitbart pointed out that Carson was asked five questions, compared to Cruz and Rubio who were asked ten.
Not to mention Carson only narrowly qualified for Saturday’s debate. Saturday could be his last chance to turn the tables before the South Carolina primary. If he fails to make a dent in a third primary race, it’s not clear if he’ll be able to stay in the running based on cutbacks his campaign has made.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich
Kasich has been riding high since his second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary. Where other candidates are bickering, Kasich has endeavored to keep a positive campaign tone.
Sensing a different audience in South Carolina, Kasich has also talked faith more than he has previously.
This is what he told reporters in New Hampshire last week: “I don’t go out and try to win a vote by using God. I think that cheapens God. But people know I’m sort of faith—I mean, I don’t think they know that or not. But I think they pick it up.”
Compare that with what he says in his South Carolina-targeted campaign ad: “My parents were killed by a drunk driver, but my parents did not die in vain. I was transformed. I discovered my purpose by discovering the Lord. I believe the Lord put us on this earth to use the gifts that we’ve been given to bring about a healing. And that’s the motivation for me.”
As Kasich has emerges as a serious contender to front-runners, he’s drawn more attacks from Right to Rise USA, a super PAC supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush‘s presidential bid. The group put out an ad calling Kasich “dangerously wrong” on national security. Kasich has also been the target of attacks from Planned Parenthood of Ohio, which said he’s “made life hell” for women in Ohio.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
After finishing fourth in New Hampshire, Jeb Bush affirmed to supporters: “this campaign is not dead.” He may be on to something. According to RealClear Politics, he polls at 11 percent on average in South Carolina, up three points this week.
Bush plans to double down on earlier attempts to position himself as “the anti-Trump” telling supporters at a forum earlier this week: “I mean is anybody here worried about the front-running candidate shouting out obscenities in front of children? It’s like what is going on?”
With the first two primary contests out of the way, expect candidates to try harder to win voters over by any means necessary — even if it means playing dirty.