Round 2 of the Republican Qualified Candidates for President of these States United begins at 9pm EST tonight. 
There will be two tiers or undercard contests. The top tier has Governor Ron DeSantis (FL), former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Vivek Ramaswamy.
The second tier is Senator Tim Scott (SC), Governor Doug Burgum (ND), former Governor Chris Christie (NJ), and former VP Mike Pence.
Some head to head matchups courtesy of Real Clear Politics and in no particular order:
Former President Donald Trump will not be participating – again – he has yet to sign the RNC required pledge to support the eventual nominee. Once he signs that pledge he will be eligible for the debates, but I doubt Trump shows up for what is essentially two undercard fights – the top tier slugging it out and the second tier trying to break into the top tier.
Smart move on Trump’s part to go to Detroit and support the UAW workers. He’s focusing on President Biden and keeping many voters with him. Whether you like Trump or not, it’s just smart politics. #JustMath
Even with the WAPO “outlier poll” factored  in Trump is +1.5 over Biden in RCP:
The strategy for all of the other candidates remains the same – Survive and Advance.
Sort of like the NCAA March Madness tournament.
The next debate threshold goes from 3% in national or early state polling to 4%.
WATCH for which candidate takes the most fire from the other six. THAT person is the one who is gaining on the ground in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. All the campaigns know the real action in the streets and they all talk to each other. The target tonight is the one with the momentum.
It’s a tell.
National polling is just a distraction and talking point right now. Follow the fire.
Those first four states are the only ones that truly matter. All polls matter, but some matter more than others.
If candidates can claim momentum and forward progress or points scored, they will reassure their donors as well as qualify for the Miami debate on November 8th. #Survive&Advance
While Trump has large leads in all of the early states, he is below 50% in all of them.
Eventually, the field will narrow – but the focus is always on 1,234. That’s the number of delegates needed to win the nomination.
Doug Burgum was the last to qualify under the 2nd debate threshold and it’s too soon to start cranking up BurgMentum hashtags. Still, he made the 2nd debate. That’s no small thing – especially for a virtual unknown from North Dakota.
Look for Nikki Haley to draw most of the fire tonight as she seems to be rising the most lately. While Ramaswamy will be challenged on many of his controversial statements – the emphasis will be that Vivek is just not ready for prime time.
Haley will be the primary target. (pun intended)
DeSantis, on the surface, should be the more likely target, but the campaigns will know better. IF he is the target then there is a comeback in the offing. IF not? It’s Iowa or bust. DeSantis was not the key target in the 1st debate – Vivek was.
Notice the recent changes in the DeSantis and Ramaswamy numbers in September national polling:
Granted it’s national polling and not the early states, but it bears watching as a possible trend developing.
Predictions for this debate:
- Trump wins again but his recent on the ground campaigning in Iowa suggests he might sign the pledge and join the next round in Miami. Doubtful unless someone starts to separate from the pack.
- Haley holds serves against all the attacks and continues to impress. She’ll get another boost in fundraising and online chatter that she could be a real threat to Biden.
- Ramaswamy is going to take some body blows tonight and a couple of upper cuts to the jaw. If he survives those without looking too weak and timid, Vivek could get back some of those trending away voters.
- DeSantis will go after Vivek. He needs those votes. I think he gets them.
- Christie will also go after Vivek and try to pivot his campaign to be the best person to politically prosecute Biden. He won’t get there. The GOP base just doesn’t like the guy. If his money holds out, Christie will get to New Hampshire – and that’s about it.
- Tim Scott. The happy warrior nice guy will need a break out moment or he will be in real jeopardy of making Miami. With all the fire being focused elsewhere, it’s hard to see Scott making move. Big night for him.
- Mike Pence. He will try to appeal to the Reagan branch of the party but his appeal is eight years too late. Pence will also go for Iowa Christian conservatives especially with Trump seemingly ready to punt the previous pro-life position of the party. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds recently backed DeSantis, so it’s hard seeing Pence getting any momentum at this point.
- Burgum will continue to impress and build solid name ID as a relatively reasonable fresh faced alternative. He will continue to spend $ in early states and stay on the debate stage in Miami. Barely.
Videos while you wait for the action to start:
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