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Carson, Rubio To Flank Trump In Next GOP Debate

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., left, and Ben Carson have surged ahead of other GOP candidates, like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, to take center stage with Donald Trump at next week's GOP debate.
Andrew Harnik

The positions are set for next Wednesday's third GOP debate — and it's going to look a lot like the last one.

CNBC announced Wednesday that 10 candidates would qualify for the main debate at 8 p.m. ET in Boulder, Colo. Again at center stage will be billionaire businessman Donald Trump, who's continued to dominate the GOP field. He'll be flanked by second-place neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has surged to third since the last debate and will be on Trump's other side.

Next will be businesswoman Carly Fiorina and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush beside Carson and Rubio, respectively. The two were tied for fourth in an average of recent polling. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz comes in next, standing beside Fiorina, followed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who'll take his place beside Bush.

For the last three spots, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul were all tied. A drawing determined how they'll stand on stage, with Christie and Paul next to Cruz and Kasich beside Huckabee.

The undercard debate, sometimes called the "Happy Hour debate," at 6 p.m. ET will feature the same four candidates as last month — former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore again failed to qualify even for the earlier debate since he didn't reach 1 percent in any poll.

And the only difference in the main debate stage is that it's down from 11 candidates to 10 again — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker dropped out last month after a disappointing performance in the debate at the Reagan Presidential Library in California.

When CNBC announced its guidelines last month, there was the possibility that Paul might not make the benchmark for the main debate stage, and that Graham might not even qualify for the lower debate. But both candidates saw their numbers improve very slightly and were saved from embarrassing demotions.

But the relatively few changes mean the main stage will again be crowded, with candidates throwing elbows for time. The debate will be two hours long and feature brief opening and closing statements — something CNBC tried to curtail, until top candidates like Trump and Carson threatened to pull out if the debate ran longer or didn't include those statements.

The debate, which will focus on the economy and jobs, will be moderated by CNBC anchors John Harwood, Carl Quintanilla and Becky Quick. Harwood will also moderate the undercard debate

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Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politicsand is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.
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