Will Lightning Strike Again In The Second GOP Debate?

With the Republican presidential campaign continuing to tighten between billionaire Donald Trump and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, the second nationally televised GOP debate Wednesday night is assuming added importance in the winnowing process as 16 candidates vie for the nomination.

Will the brash Trump continue to defy political convention, belittling his competitors and promoting an agenda of harsh anti-illegal immigrant action, tough talk about ISIS and tax increases on the wealthy? Will Carson and others in the crowded field find ways to slow his march to the nomination next summer?  A New York Times/CBS News poll released Tuesday suggested that Carson, with his more subdued message to conservatives and evangelical Christians, is rapidly closing in on Trump, 23 percent to 27 percent.

While Trump and Carson are certain to headline the debate televised by CNN from the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina will likely be a thorn in Trump’s side throughout the evening, in retaliation for his comments to Rolling Stone that she lacks “the face” to be elected president.

Fiorina used the Fox News undercard debate on August 6, affectionately dubbed the “happy hour debate” by its participants, to catapult herself to the main stage on Wednesday.  While Fiorina has moved up slightly in the polls and begun to attract money and bigger audiences, GOP strategists warn not to expect lightning to strike twice, even though the four candidates appearing in the earlier time slot tonight will have more time on air than their cash-strapped campaigns could ever hope to buy.

“They pretty much need an act of God to move up,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, noting that all four are “career politicians” in a year where polls show GOP voters prefer candidates without government experience.

“But then again there’s nothing that’s been logical about this process so far,” added O’Connell, who worked for the McCain-Palin GOP campaign in 2008.

Read more from Martin Matishak and  Eric Pianin at The Fiscal Times

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Analysis & Political Strategy