BOULDER, Colo. (Reuters) - Political outsiders Ben Carson and Donald Trump will be under pressure to prove their economic expertise at Wednesday’s presidential debate, with eight struggling rivals eager to expose what they see as policy weaknesses in the two front-runners.
The nationally televised debate comes at a crucial time in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, as Carson has moved ahead of Trump in some national and local polls just three months before the first nominating contest in Iowa.
Lagging contenders such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida are running out of time to turn the tide in a campaign dominated by provocative rhetoric that has played to the strengths of Trump, a bombastic reality television star and developer, and Carson, a soft-spoken neurosurgeon.
The two-hour debate in Boulder, Colorado, which is expected to focus heavily on economic issues, will begin at 8 p.m. EDT/0000 GMT and will air on the CNBC business TV network.
The other candidates sharing the stage will be U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina, Ohio Governor John Kasich, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
All of the trailing contenders need to shake up the race and will be trying to plant doubts with voters about whether Carson and Trump, who have never held public office, are familiar with the issues.
The economic spotlight could pose a test for the front-runners.
“It requires them to no longer just glide by on attributes like being new and bold,” said Republican strategist Kevin Madden, a former top aide to 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Carson told reporters before the debate he did not intend to be drawn into a battle with Trump or anyone else.
“I’m not going to get into a bunch of fights with people,” he said, adding that some of his rivals sounded a little desperate ahead of the debate.
“I feel kind of sorry for them,” he said.
In Westerville, Ohio, on Monday, Kasich signaled he would take a tougher tone with Trump and Carson.
“I want you to know I’m fed up. I’m sick and tired of listening to this nonsense and I’m going to have to call it like it is in this race,” Kasich said.
Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state and the favorite to become the Democratic Party’s candidate, said in New Hampshire that a “vigorous debate” about policies had been missing from the Republican events so far.
Before the main event, four candidates who are lagging even further behind in the polls will hold a separate debate.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, former New York Governor George Pataki and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania have failed to make any headway in the race so far.
For more on the 2016 presidential race, see the Reuters blog, “Tales from the Trail” (here)
Additional reporting by Erin McPike; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Andrea Ricci, Grant McCool and Jonathan Oatis