RNC announces Hutchinson, 7 others will participate in Wednesday debate

FILE — Gov. Asa Hutchinson answers questions during the weekly Covid-19 update on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, at the state Capitol in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)
FILE — Gov. Asa Hutchinson answers questions during the weekly Covid-19 update on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, at the state Capitol in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

The Republican National Committee announced Monday evening that eight candidates will participate in the Republican Party's first presidential debate, with former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson among those set to appear on Wednesday's debate stage.

Hutchinson and seven other candidates met certain criteria established by the Republican National Committee pertaining to donors and polls and additionally signed a pledge promising to support the party's eventual nominee for the White House.

Other candidates who will participate in the debate include former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

Fox News will host the debate, which will begin at 8 p.m. Central on Wednesday.

"The RNC is excited to showcase our diverse candidate field and the conservative vision to beat Joe Biden on the debate stage Wednesday night," Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Monday evening.

The Republican National Committee in June announced the criteria for qualifying for the first debate. Candidates had to receive contributions from a minimum of 40,000 unique donors with at least 200 unique donors in 20 or more states.

Hutchinson announced Sunday he surpassed the established threshold concerning unique donors to participate in Wednesday's debate in Milwaukee. According to Hutchinson's campaign, the former governor has received donations from nearly 42,000 unique donors, including contributions from more than 37,000 donors since July 1.

The Republican National Committee additionally required candidates to reach at least 1% in either three national polls or two national polls and two polls conducted in early primary states, which include Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The committee recognized polls that survey at least 800 registered likely Republican voters through various mediums -- including text messages and phone calls -- and those that do not "overly weight responses of any individual cohort beyond the margin of the error of the poll."

To appear on the stage, candidates were required to sign a pledge agreeing to support the eventual Republican nominee and boycott all non-sanctioned debates. Hutchinson told CNN on Sunday he will sign the pledge, expressing confidence that former President Donald Trump -- the party's current front-runner -- will not win the Republican nomination.

"I'm going to support the nominee of the party," he told Kasie Hunt. "I do not expect it to be Donald Trump."

Candidates had to meet each qualifying condition 48 hours before the debate.

"Our campaign has always been about the American people and the belief that we can collectively bring out the best of America," Hutchinson said Sunday in a statement. "I am thankful so many agree with me: it is time for us to elect a president with a forward-looking vision for our nation, whose gaze is set on the horizon ... not the rear-view mirror."

The debate comes with Trump maintaining a significant lead over his Republican opponents. Hutchinson emerged as a frequent Trump critic following Trump's support of claims of voting fraud surrounding the 2020 presidential election. Hutchinson has described the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol as a disqualifying condition for Trump's candidacy, and called on the former president to drop out of the race following indictments over allegations he falsified business records, mishandled classified documents and attempted to undermine the presidential election.

The Republican National Committee did not list Trump among the debate participants. The former president has said he is not planning to participate in Wednesday's debate or other subsequent events, posting on his Truth Social page that the public already knows his background and record as president. The New York Times reported Friday that Trump is possibly taking part in an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Christie, a Trump critic like Hutchinson, told MSNBC that Trump should "stop being such a coward" and participate in the debate. Never Back Down, a super PAC supporting DeSantis, released an advertisement last week questioning Trump's strength as a candidate over his stance on the debate.

"We can't afford a nominee that is too weak to debate," the advertisement's narrator states.

Andrew Dowdle, a University of Arkansas professor who studies the presidency and presidential campaigns, said the debate presents an opportunity for Hutchinson to introduce himself to voters unaware of his gubernatorial record and political background.

"His name recognition nationwide is relatively low compared to some of the other well-known candidates," Dowdle told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "That's a chance for him to really go into people's living rooms for the first time."

Dowdle said Hutchinson has positioned his campaign toward trying to occupy a specific niche of Republican voters wary of a second Trump presidency. While Hutchinson and Christie have been the leading Republican voices challenging Trump, Dowdle described Hutchinson as "more polite" in his approach.

"Basically, what Hutchinson is kind of hoping is that you have enough people who are really that surge group that ended up coming back to Trump over the course of the spring and summer after the indictments," he added.

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