(WASHINGTON) — The countdown to the first Republican primary debate has begun, with just six days until candidates take the stage in Milwaukee on Wednesday night.
A slew of documents drawing back the curtain on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ possible debate preparation were published online by a group associated with the DeSantis-allied super PAC Never Back Down — outlining how he might get attacked by his rivals and advising how he should strike back.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden and national Democrats are planning to use the moment to highlight their competing vision for the country.
And former President Donald Trump, who has yet to commit to the debate, lashed out at the network that will host the event: Fox News.
Here’s what to know from the trail on Thursday.
Debate advice from DeSantis’ allies revealed
Documents prepared by Axiom Strategies and posted online, which were first reported by New York Times, show how those DeSantis’ allies want him to respond to his rivals’ attacks.
The group anticipates the biggest hits to DeSantis will be for his battle with Disney (the parent company of ABC News), his stance on Ukraine, Florida’s Black history standard, the culture wars and abortion.
The group also zeroed in on more specific attacks from certain campaigns. The research highlights how Sen. Tim Scott has remarked, in regard to DeSantis, that being “tough” isn’t enough to win. Nikki Haley, they said, repeatedly criticizes him for “copying Trump.”
A memo to DeSantis contained in those online documents said he needs to “Take a sledge-hammer to Vivek Ramaswamy: ‘Fake Vivek’ Or ‘Vivek the Fake."”
“This was not a campaign memo and we were not aware of it prior to the article. We are well accustomed to the attacks from all sides as the media and other candidates realize Ron DeSantis is the strongest candidate best positioned to take down Joe Biden,” DeSantis campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo said.
– Gabriella Abdul-Hakim, Libby Cathey, Abby Cruz, Hannah Demissie, Nicholas Kerr, Will McDuffie, Isabella Murray, Kendall Ross, and Kelsey Walsh
Biden plans counterprogramming to GOP debate
Biden’s 2024 team and the Democratic National Committee are planning a blitz to counter the first Republican primary debate.
It will include its third largest ad campaign of the cycle, some of which focused on Black and Hispanic media, and on-air interviews with Biden surrogates to spread his reelection message. Billboards will also be placed across Milwaukee contrasting the “MAGA agenda” with Biden’s record of accomplishments, according to the Biden campaign, including a billboard truck that will circle the debate venue.
“Next week’s Republican debate will put on display just how extreme and out of touch the Republican candidates are with the American people,” Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said in a statement. “That’s why we’re using the debate as an opportunity to activate and energize our supporters, as well as expand support for the Biden-Harris ticket and our agenda for the middle class and protecting Americans’ freedoms.”
Trump criticizes Fox News over supposedly unflattering photos
Trump, as he continues to keep people guessing about whether he’ll join the debate stage, took aim at Fox News on Thursday.
One of his issues with the network? What he says is their purposeful airing of unflattering photos of him.
“Why doesn’t Fox and Friends show all of the Polls where I am beating Biden, by a lot. They just won’t do it! Also, they purposely show the absolutely worst pictures of me, especially the big “orange” one with my chin pulled way back. They think they are getting away with something, they’re not. Just like 2016 all over again…And then they want me to debate!” Trump wrote on Truth Social.
Fox News’ Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum will moderate the first GOP debate on Wednesday.
Biden, Trump tied when it comes to favorability
Trump and Biden have a common problem: their favorability ratings.
A new ABC News/Ipsos poll found most Americans view both Biden (54%) and Trump (55%) in a negative way.
The two early 2024 frontrunners had the same exact favorability score, the survey showed, at 31%.
Tim Scott launches $8 million ad buy
The South Carolina senator is launching the second major ad buy of his campaign, this time laying out $8 million for television, radio, and digital ads.
Most of the money — $6.6 million — will go toward television ads that will air statewide in Iowa and New Hampshire and run through the end of November.
So far, he is the only candidate to have ads placed post-Labor Day.
“As he prepares to take the debate stage, it is clear he not only is the best messenger and most consistent conservative in the race, but also has the resources to win,” a senior campaign official said.
Will Hurd gets closer to debate stage
The Republican presidential candidate announced Thursday afternoon he now had 42,500 donors to his campaign, which means he has surpassed the unique donor threshold required to make the first GOP primary debate stage next week.
“We did it, y’all. Thank you to everyone who donated and helped us cross the 40,000 donor threshold. Next up, 50,000!” he said in a social media post.
Hurd’s team told ABC News they are “confident” that he has also made the polling requirements and are scheduled to speak with the Republican National Committee to get those surveys approved.
But there’s another key hurdle to Hurd getting on stage: He has said he won’t sign the RNC’s loyalty pledge without revisions to the agreement.
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