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GOP Face Growing Urgency to Stop Trump 09/27 06:26

   

   SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (AP) -- Republicans are meeting for their second 
presidential debate Wednesday as his top rivals seek to blunt the momentum of 
Donald Trump, who is so confident of cruising through the party's primary that 
he again won't share a stage with them.

   Seven GOP candidates will be at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for 
an event hosted by Fox Business Network. Trump will be in Michigan, delivering 
a prime-time speech attempting to capitalize on the Auto Workers Union strike 
and trying to appeal to rank-and-file union members in a key state for the 
general election.

   The debate comes at a critical moment in the GOP campaign, with less than 
four months before the Iowa caucuses formally launch the presidential 
nomination process. For now, Trump is dominating the field even as he faces a 
range of vulnerabilities, including four criminal indictments that raise the 
prospect of decades in prison. His rivals are running out of time to dent his 
lead, which is building a sense of urgency among some to more directly take on 
the former president before an audience of millions.

   "This is not a nomination that's going to fall in your lap. You have to go 
and beat the other candidates and one of those happens to be Donald Trump," 
said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist and veteran of Mitt Romney's 2008 
and 2012 presidential campaigns. "This debate, it'll be interesting to see 
whether or not folks realize that the sand is going through the hourglass 
pretty quickly right now."

   The former president also skipped the first debate last month in Milwaukee, 
where the participants laid into one another while mostly avoiding attacks on 
Trump. Nearly 13 million people tuned in anyway.

   Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations 
ambassador, drew larger crowds and new interest after her first debate 
performance in which she attacked entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy on foreign 
policy and pointed out that she was the only woman in the field.

   Her team has raised expectations even higher going into Wednesday night, 
telling donors in a recent pitch that they are "ready to capitalize on the 
momentum after Nikki walks off stage."

   "As more voters across America tune in to watch the second debate, it'll be 
a great opportunity to bring even more supporters into the fold," Haley's 
campaign manager, Betsy Ankney, wrote in her email.

   Also hoping for a big night is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who will be at 
center stage despite recent struggles to emerge as the field's top Trump 
alternative. His campaign announced that he also saw a jump in fundraising 
after the first debate, but a strong performance on Wednesday will likely be 
necessary to replicate that.

   "It's too late for just a fine performance," said Christine Matthews, a 
national Republican pollster. "DeSantis has gone from leading alternative to 
Trump to just one of the pack of challengers and he will be under pressure to 
perform."

   Former Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and 
Ramaswamy are similarly looking for breakout moments. Ramaswamy seized the 
spotlight frequently in Milwaukee, but was criticized by many candidates who 
sought to expose his lack of political experience.

   Also on stage will be North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Chris Christie, the 
former New Jersey governor, who has built his White House bid around slamming 
Trump.

   Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson failed to qualify after making the first 
debate. Hutchinson's campaign says he'll also go to Michigan to hold a press 
conference criticizing Trump.

   Ahead of the debate, many participants were meeting with top supporters, 
donors and reporters to make the case that they are best positioned going 
forward.

   Reed Galen, co-founder of the Lincoln Project, an organization founded by 
conservatives who oppose Trump, said that while he still believes the former 
president will ultimately be the Republican nominee in 2024, Wednesday's debate 
offers a chance for others to make up ground.

   "There are opportunities in the offing because Trump is taking this for 
granted," Galen said.

   The site is symbolic given that Reagan has long been a Republican icon whose 
words and key moments still shape GOP politics today. But in addition to 
fighting with the Reagan library's leaders, Trump has reshaped the party and 
pushed away from traditional GOP policy positions -- including a muscular 
foreign policy and opposition to Moscow.

   While Reagan is remembered for going to a divided Berlin and calling on 
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall," Trump has often 
sympathized with Russian President Vladimir Putin and recently said, "I was the 
apple of his eye."

   Pence, in a recent speech, called on conservatives to reject Trump's "siren 
song of populism." But Ramaswamy attacked Pence in the first debate by 
declaring "it's not morning in America" -- a reversal of Reagan's famous 1984 
campaign slogan -- and saying Republicans following Reagan were out of step 
with a Trump-dominated party.

   "The sad thing is, the irony -- and I don't know how many people there will 
get it -- is that Ronald Reagan could not get the Republican nomination today," 
said former Republican New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who is now 
teaming with Democratic voices to promote the centrist Forward Party. "He's not 
far enough out there."

 
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