The Republican National Committee tightened the requirements to make Wednesday night's debate at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, and one less candidate will be on the stage, compared with the August debate in Milwaukee.
The candidates set to participate include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Chris Christie.
So where will the front-runner be? Thousands of miles away, in a Detroit suburb, former President Donald Trump will be talking to auto workers on strike.
"Talking to the union workers is a really great strategy because that's who is getting hit the hardest with our economy right now. It's dominating news headlines," said political strategist Raven Harrison. "And it's really important because right now we're crippled under inflation and a lot of kitchen table issues that need to be addressed."
Harrison believes the candidates should use the debate stage to explain their differences from Trump, and how they plan to enact their agenda once in the White House.
"They need to give a clear policy: 'This is what I'm going to do. We're going to secure the border. We're going to balance the budget.' Whatever they intend to do and how they intend to accomplish that," Harrison added, saying that attacking Trump is not the way to win over Republican voters.
Even without Trump in the mix, the last debate barely moved the needle in the polls. And Trump's strong grip on the lead is due in part to his mounting legal woes.
"He gets nonstop coverage. He's in every headline. He's in every publication, you know," Harrison said. "Whether it's good press or bad press, they can't take their eyes off of him, which has put him laps ahead of the nearest competitor."
But some political experts say holding the debate is still worthwhile. It gives candidates a chance to introduce themselves to a national audience and sets up the future of the Republican party.
"I think the point is twofold. I think one is to establish themselves as heir apparent when the Trump era is over. And I think some of the ones on the lower end of the polling scale would be looking for a vice president nod," Harrison added.
Another function of these debates is narrowing the field. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez ended his short-lived campaign after not making the first debate. Asa Hutchinson didn't make the stage for round two, but has vowed to continue his campaign.
Wednesday night's debate is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. ET and will be hosted by Fox Business and Univision. It will also be streamed free on the predominantly right-wing social media platform Rumble.
Trending stories at Scrippsnews.com