5 candidates set to face off in Miami for third Republican debate tonight

A narrower field of Republican candidates will face off Wednesday in the third presidential debate of the primary cycle in Miami, with former President Donald Trump, who leads the field by a wide margin in the polls, still declining to participate. 

The debate comes one day after Democrats had a strong showing in elections across the country, providing a snapshot of voters’ attitudes one year from the presidential election. Ohio voters chose overwhelmingly to enshrine the right to an abortion in the state constitution, becoming the first GOP-led state to do so since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Virginia Democrats won control of the both chambers in the state’s legislature, and Kentucky’s Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won reelection in his deep-red state.

The crisis in Israel and Gaza is also sure to come up in the debate, which is the first since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

Here’s what to know about tonight’s debate, which will feature five candidates on stage:

What time is the debate, and who is moderating?

NBC News is hosting this debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, which begins at 8 p.m. ET and runs two hours. NBC’s Lester Holt and Kristen Welker are moderating, along with radio host Hugh Hewitt.

How to watch the Republican debate tonight

The debate will air on NBC stations across the country and stream on NBC News NOW, the outlet’s streaming service. It will be available to watch for free on NBCNews.com and stream on Peacock and other services beginning at 8 p.m.

Who is in the Republican debate tonight?

The Republican National Committee, which is sanctioning the debate, set the criteria for participation. Candidates needed to secure a polling minimum of 4% in either two national surveys or one national survey combined with two surveys from the early-nominating states. Candidates also needed to garner contributions from a minimum of 70,000 individuals before an 8 p.m. deadline on Monday.

Five candidates qualified for the debate:

  • Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie 
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
  • Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley
  • Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy 
  • Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina

One notable absence will be former Vice President Mike Pence, who appeared in the first two debates but dropped out of the race last month. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson failed to meet the requirements needed to make the stage. 

What the latest 2024 polls say

The first two debates did little to change the dynamics of the race among Republican primary voters. The latest CBS News poll showed Trump winning 61% of likely Republican primary voters nationwide, more than all the other candidates combined. DeSantis polled at 18%, Haley at 9%, Ramaswamy at 5%, Scott at 4% and Christie at 2%. 

Polling also shows the various criminal indictments against Trump have done little to sway the opinions of likely GOP primary voters. The same CBS News poll showed only 12% of likely GOP primary voters think worse of him because of those indictments, with 54% saying they “don’t matter.” 

Haley has narrowed the gap to second place with DeSantis in Iowa, the first state on the 2024 primary calendar. A Des Moines Register poll last week showed the two candidates tied at 16% in the Hawkeye State, with Trump leading at 43%.

Is Trump going to be at the debate?

Like the first and second debates, Trump is shunning the third one in Miami. But he’s not going to stay quiet. He instead is holding a rally in Hialeah, Florida, half an hour away from the debate site. The former president testified this week in his civil fraud case in New York, one of several legal challenges he faces.

Haley and DeSantis are likely to go after each other on stage. Haley released a video this week attacking DeSantis over his record on fracking and drilling.