- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Republican 2016 hopefuls relegated to Wednesday’s preliminary GOP presidential debate have a new sense of urgency after their ranks were culled last week with the withdrawal of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry from the race and the elevation of one of their own, Carly Fiorina, to the main stage.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former New York Gov. George Pataki are all hoping to score the kind of performance that will help them emulate Ms. Fiorina. But operating low-budget campaigns without the kind of attention reserved for the big-name candidates, they are in danger of following Mr. Perry, who flamed out last week.

Most of the attention will go to the 11 candidates in the main event at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. The preliminary affair begins at 6 p.m. East Coast time, while the main debate begins after 8 p.m.

Ms. Fiorina was on the undercard for the Aug. 6 debate — the first of the primary season — but had such a strong performance that she rose in the polls, and CNN, which is sponsoring this week’s debate, adjusted its rules to make sure she would qualify.

Carly Fiorina demonstrated that a good performance in the early debate can be a catalyst,” said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee member from Mississippi. “It is a political opportunity for these four candidates to jump-start their campaign, get a little traction, raise some money and start a slow march up the polls.”

But he said the candidates will also have to prove they have a reliable cash flow and the patience to keep slogging through campaign stops if they are to rise.

Debates can be crucial for cash-strapped candidates who are looking to gain some traction against some of their better-funded rivals. And being part of the preliminary debate could even be beneficial for the four lower-tier candidates, because they’ll get more airtime per person to make their pitch, compared to the 11-person free-for-all that will ensue later.

“I do think the four will actually have a better opportunity to introduce themselves than the larger group, and this time the same full audience will be there for both debates,” said Steve Duprey, a Republican National Committeeman from New Hampshire. “Each of the four needs to come across clearly with crisp answers like Carly did in the first debate.”

John Brabender, a senior adviser to Mr. Santorum, said candidates need to “resist the temptation to look at this as “I have to swing for the fences.”

“I think you have to look at it and say, ‘I am not going to shoot for home run after home run, but instead shoot for lots of singles and doubles and look to be credible,’” Mr. Brabender said.

He said Mr. Santorum will look to distinguish himself from the field by emphasizing how he spent years pushing back against Iran’s nuclear program and battling for welfare reform on Capitol Hill.

Shawn Steel, a Republican National Committee member from California, said Mr. Jindal has the best bet of breaking out of the early group.

“The others are such nondescripts. It is almost a charity to give them all this free attention,” Mr. Steel said. “Jindal is one of the youngest guys and one of the smartest guys in the party, but he is trapped in that he just hasn’t been able to break through the noise, so this is probably his last opportunity to get into the top 10.”

For his part, Mr. Jindal has recently focused most of his attention on tearing down Donald Trump, the front-runner in GOP primary polls.

“If the last debate is any indicator, I expect this debate to reshuffle the deck again and to produce at least one breakout from the undercard match,” said Timmy Teepell, Mr. Jindal’s campaign manager.

But Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist, said it will be tough for the candidates to make gains.

“I don’t know that any of them can get out of the losers’ table,” Mr. O’Connell said. “I mean, seriously, they might need an act of God.

“For Fiorina, she is a special case. She is the only female in the field, and she presented herself well. The others are careers politicians, and the voters are not up for a career politician being up there right now,” he said.

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