The top contenders in a crowded field of Republican presidential candidates will come together tonight for their first major debate of the campaign season.
The debate, taking place in Cleveland, Ohio and broadcast by Fox News, will bring what are considered the ten highest polling candidates in the race together on the same stage. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker earned his spot with aggregate polling numbers that put him in third place among the field, behind Republicans Donald Trump and Jeb Bush.
Marquette University Law School political scientist Charles Franklin says it’s a real opportunity for Walker to introduce himself to a national audience, many of whom do not really know much about him yet. Franklin notes that “it’s hard for us to realize here in Wisconsin, where he’s almost universally recognized, that nationally…upwards of 40 percent of the public say they don’t have an opinion about him – either good or bad.”
Franklin expects Walker will likely stick to many of the same themes he’s already been discussing on the campaign trail, such as his record on core issues to the Republican base like abortion and taxes. He says it’s also unlikely the governor will deviate from his usual debate tactics, which are “to remain quite controlled, to stay on the message he wants to deliver, and not to engage too much with the other candidates.”
University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Ken Mayer has similar expectations for Walker, along with much of the other candidates in the debate. However, he notes the one “wild card” is Donald Trump. The current leader in the polls has been making headlines with controversial statements on the campaign trail. Mayer says it’s unlikely Trump will keep a low profile on stage, and could try to “stir things up” on stage by interrupting or making other statements.
Mayer notes that each candidate may only get seven to nine minutes during the debate to actually talk, so some could be looking to set themselves apart from the others. He says the dynamics of a debate format like this are “really chaotic.” Despite that, he expects Walker to stick by his promise to not get into attacks with other candidates.
Appearing on TV during the debate will be Walker, along with real estate developer Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marko Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. The debate starts at 8 p.m. Central Time.