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5 Things GOP Candidates Are Complaining About Pre-Debate

From the length of the debate to their green rooms, the Republicans have not been happy

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The GOP presidential candidates will face each other on the debate stage for a third time Wednesday.

John Minchillo/AP

With fewer than 100 days until the Iowa caucuses, the GOP candidates will take the stage at the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Coors Events Center Wednesday evening for a gladiator-style death-match out of which only one will emerge, blood-spattered and victorious.

Kidding! It’s a debate, the third in a series of 11 scheduled through March; this one is hosted by CNBC and will focus on economic issues. 

Here are the things the candidates are complaining about in the lead-up to the debate.

The length
Wednesday’s lineup features all of the big players: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich. Perhaps it seems like a given that candidates running for the Republican nomination would appear at the party’s primary debates, but during a contentious conference call back in September, several of them threatened to pull out if their demands about the debate’s format were not met.

Trump wanted the network to allow both opening and closing statements, and he refused to participate if it ran more than two hours long, including commercial breaks. Carson, Cruz and Paul joined Trump in threatening not to participate if CNBC refused to allow opening and closing statements. CNBC ultimately cowed to both of Trump’s demands.

The moderator
Wednesday’s debate will be moderated by Carl Quintanilla (co-host of the CNBC shows Squawk on the Street and Squawk Alley), Becky Quick (co-host of Squawk Box) and the network’s chief Washington correspondent, John Harwood. Some conservatives are upset that Harwood, who also moderated a debate during the 2012 Republican primaries, is back; he effectively ended Rick Perry’s bid that year when he pressed the Texas governor after Perry could not remember one of the three government agencies he said he’d do away with if elected.

Harwood has tussled with some of this year’s crop of candidates before. On Twitter last year, he called Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal “direct [government]-on-citizen crime,” and he rubbed Rand Paul the wrong way during a 2013 interview (“Don’t you have anything better, don’t you have something better to read than a bunch of crap from people who don’t like me?” Paul asked). For the full compendium of conservative criticisms of Harwood, check out these primers from The Federalist and the conservative Media Research Center.

The green rooms
Representatives for each of the campaigns went on a walk-through of the Coors Event Center Tuesday, and had the chance to peek inside their rivals’ green rooms. Several aides were displeased by what they saw. Rand Paul adviser Chris LaCivita bristled at the discrepancy he saw between the spaces provided to the higher and lower polling candidates.

LaCivita tweeted later that night that the RNC had remedied the situation.

The polls
For the first time since the race began, a national poll on Tuesday found that Donald Trump is no longer prospective Republican primary voters’ favorite candidate. The New York Times/CBS News poll found Ben Carson had pulled past Trump; according to the survey, the retired surgeon now leads the celebrity real estate mogul 26 percent to 22.

On the morning of the debate, Trump channeled his frustrations with his poll numbers in CNBC’s direction, seemingly upset that the news network had reported on the poll. Expect this to be a recurring theme at Wednesday night’s debate.

The state of the race and the Republican Party
Ohio Gov. John Kasich will arrive in Colorado on the heels of a fiery town hall speech in his home state, during which he expressed his frustrations at the other candidates in the race. “I want you to know I’m fed up. I’m sick and tired of listening to this nonsense and I’m going to have to call it like it is in this race,” Kasich told supporters at rally in Westerville, Ohio, Tuesday.

“We got one candidate that says we ought to abolish Medicaid and Medicare. You ever heard of anything so crazy as that?” he went on, also criticizing Trump’s plans to deport millions of immigrants and Paul’s flat-tax plan. “What has happened to our party? What has happened to the conservative movement?”

Kasich isn’t the only one feeling this way. His comments echoed ones made by Jeb Bush last weekend at a town hall in South Carolina. “If this election is about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, then I don’t want anything – I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to be elected president to sit around and see gridlock just become so dominant that people literally are in decline in their lives. That is not my motivation,” Bush said.

“I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”

Both candidates are calling for a ratcheting down of the divisive rhetoric that has propelled Ben Carson to the top of the polls. Don’t be surprised if you hear variations on that theme as each looks to unseat Carson with their performance tonight.

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