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The moderators of the Republican primary debate expect some sparks to fly at the Reagan Library when candidates try to prove they’re the best one to take on former President Donald Trump.
“All of them will be looking for a breakout moment or multiple moments,” Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney said. “This is a very good chance for them to stand out and establish momentum ahead of the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary.”
Fox News anchor Dana Perino, who will join Varney and Univision anchor Ilia Calderón at the moderators’ table, stressed the importance of Wednesday’s event at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley. The debate will be televised live at 6 p.m. Pacific on Fox Business Network and Univision. It will also stream on Rumble, the right-leaning, video-sharing platform.
“This debate is where the rubber meets the road," Perino said. "One of them has to show they can be the main rival to Trump.”
The six candidates who have qualified so far for the debate are Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Two other candidates — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum — have until Monday to meet the GOP requirements to participate.
Trump announced last week that he did not plan to join the debate stage.
“Nikki Haley benefitted the most from the first debate,” Perino said, referring to the Milwaukee GOP event in August. But she added that it remains to be seen who will be the main rival for Trump, the frontrunner who wasn’t in Milwaukee and won’t be in Simi Valley.
Varney said he will encourage a robust debate among the candidates at the Reagan Library.
“I will look for questions directed to a specific candidate, knowing that another candidate has an opposing point of view," he said.
Each candidate gets 60 seconds to answer a moderator’s question, Varney said. If a candidate criticizes an opponent, the other candidate gets 30 seconds to respond, which is when Varney expects some sparks to fly.
When asked about the likelihood of candidates talking over each other, Varney said, “We have a very loud buzzer. It’s up to us to retain control. The audience does not want a free-for-all.”
Varney said the Fox Business Network research department will watch for any factual mistakes by the candidates and report them to the moderators through their earpieces. But he added he expects the candidates will correct each other.
Although the debate will air on Fox Business Network, Varney said the questions won’t be limited to the economy.
“Far from it,” Varney said. “People who watch this debate want to know where the candidates stand on other issues: immigration, crime, China and Ukraine.
“And we’ll throw in a few surprise questions,” he said.
Perino said the economy will influence various issues.
“An example would be that many candidates believe, as Ronald Reagan, did in a strong national defense. You need a strong economy for a strong national defense or to fight crime or for a good education,” she said.
Varney, who along with Perino isn’t revealing any questions in advance, said he wouldn’t be surprised if Trump and his four indictments or the indictment of President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, is discussed.
And the symbolism of the debate site — the Reagan Library — isn’t lost on either moderator.
“The candidates want to have the Reagan reputation placed on themselves. I wonder if they can do it,” said Varney, a 75-year-old native of Derby, England and graduate of the London School of Economics.
He pointed to the difference between Reagan and candidates such as Trump.
“Reagan was not a populist. He was a classic conservative — low-tax, low-regulation,” said Varney, who hosted programs on CNN and CNBC before joining the Fox News business team in 2004.
“I remember watching Reagan debating Jimmy Carter in 1980,” Varney said. “He asked (of viewers), ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ That was a winning moment.”
Perino said she has done a couple book signings at the Reagan Library and has participated in the library’s annual Reagan National Defense Forum. “I love it there.”
Wednesday will mark the first time Perino has been a moderator of a presidential debate, and she said she has picked up some tips from Fox News anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, who moderated the debate in Milwaukee.
“I have to remind myself there’s a team to help me, from excellent researchers to the folks in wardrobe,” Perino said. “I’m not doing it alone.”
The 51-year-old Evanston, Wyoming native, grew up in Denver, where her father encouraged her to read the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. “He had me choose two articles each day to discuss with him.”
After various reporting jobs in broadcasting, Perino worked her way up from spokesperson at the U.S. Department of Justice Department to press secretary for President George W. Bush.
Perino said Bush praised her for briefing him so well before press conferences that he was never surprised by any of the reporters’ questions.
“It was the honor of a lifetime,” Perino said about her White House job.
Dave Mason covers East County for the Ventura County Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-437-0323.
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Fox News moderators discuss GOP debate at Reagan Library