WASHINGTON — Eight Republican hopefuls — but not former President Donald Trump — will meet Wednesday night in Milwaukee for the first debate of the 2024 presidential campaign season.

The debate will be a prime opportunity for Trump’s rivals, who lag far behind in polls of Republican voters, to gain some attention. That’s especially true for the lesser-known hopefuls, for whom the debate may serve as an introduction for many voters.

Trump’s absence likely will reduce viewership for the live broadcast, but that may not matter much — a prime goal for candidates in debates is to produce attention-getting moments that go viral on social media.

Who’s on stage?

The Republican National Committee announced Monday night that these eight candidates had met its criteria of 40,000 individual donors and 1% support in qualifying polls:

Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota

Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida

Former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina

Former Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas

Former Vice President Mike Pence

Vivek Ramaswamy, a businessman

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina

Three other hopefuls, California radio talk show host Larry Elder; Perry Johnson, a businessman who tried to run for governor of Michigan; and Francis X. Suarez, the mayor of Miami, sought to qualify but did not make the RNC’s cutoff.

Elder and Johnson have protested and said they plan to travel to Milwaukee anyway.

Where’s Trump?

The former president announced Sunday that he would not participate in debates, citing his large lead in polls.

“The public knows who I am & what a successful Presidency I had,” he said on his Truth Social site. “I will therefore not be doing the debates.”

Trump has recorded an interview with Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News star who was pushed out in April. His campaign hasn’t said when the interview will be released, but it’s widely expected that Trump will do so during the debate.

His aides have said Trump will be at his resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Wednesday night, although several candidates have reportedly prepared for the possibility that he could show up partway through the debate and demand to come onto the stage.

On Thursday, he’s scheduled to travel to Atlanta to surrender to authorities and be arraigned on felony charges in the case brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis accusing him of racketeering in connection with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.

Where is the debate being aired?

Fox News is hosting the debate before a live audience in Milwaukee. The moderators will be anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum.

The RNC also plans to stream the debate on Rumble, a free online video-sharing platform that has a heavily Republican audience. The co-sponsorship of the debate could be important for the platform. A Pew Research Center survey last year found that 20% of U.S. adults had heard of Rumble, but only 2% regularly got news from it. Of those who did get news from the site, three-quarters identified as Republicans.

What time is the debate?

The debate is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Pacific time and run until 8 p.m.

What do the polls show?

Trump has a big lead for his party’s nomination, as he has had nearly all year. He has just over half the vote in the average of national polls maintained by the FiveThirtyEight website.

DeSantis is a distant second nationally, and has lost significant support in recent weeks. He now stands at 21% in the polling average. Ramaswamy, who has gained support recently, is in third place with 9%. Pence, Scott, Haley and Christie are closely bunched together with 3% to 4% each. Burgum and Hutchinson lag behind with less than 1%.

In Iowa, which will hold the first contest of the race on Jan. 15, and where the candidates already have spent time and money, the contest is somewhat tighter and has a different order:

Trump has the support of 42% of likely participants in the state’s Republican caucuses, according to a survey released Monday by veteran Iowa pollster J. Ann Selzer.

DeSantis had the support of 19%. Scott, who has aired extensive television advertising in the state and aimed for the support of its large bloc of evangelical voters, was in third place with 9%, followed by Haley and Pence, with 6% each, Christie with 5% and Ramaswamy with 4%.

David Lauter

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