BOULDER, Colo. — Ben Carson is about to confront his first big test as a Republican star. Jeb Bush is battling for his political life. Marco Rubio’s on everyone’s list of candidates who can soar, and Donald Trump is, well, Donald Trump.

And whatever happened to Carly Fiorina?

They’re the ones to watch Wednesday night as the Republican presidential nomination race begins a new, crucial phase. Ten leading contenders will debate Wednesday for two hours, starting at 8 p.m., at the University of Colorado’s Coors Events Center. CNBC will host this week’s debate, billed as “Your Money, Your Vote: The Presidential Debate on the Economy.”

The debate is likely to have a more serious tone than previous encounters. With the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses less than 100 days away, voters are getting serious. While polls say most have not made a final decision on a candidate, they’re looking hard at the choices.

Here is a quick look at how the most visible candidates stand:


The retired neurosurgeon is this month’s one to watch. He’s jumped ahead of Trump in Iowa and “his support is very broad,” said Ann Selzer, a Des Moines-based pollster. He’s ahead nationwide in a CBS News/New York Times survey released Tuesday. But the survey also found big majorities of Republicans haven’t completely made up their minds.

Wednesday, Carson faces a new and perhaps daunting challenge. Trump has begun criticizing him, and others are likely to pile on. Carson usually dismisses the barbs in his gentle, quiet way.


The real estate mogul’s summer of triumph is turning into an uncertain fall. He can no longer promote himself as the clear front-runner, and his numbers have barely moved for some time.

His biggest need at the debate will be to regain some momentum and broaden his appeal by getting more specific about his plans for governing. It will be hard, because his negatives are unusually high for a major candidate.


His lackluster campaign and often bland style have cost him. It’s too early to count Bush out, since he and his supporters have raised more than $100 million, and Bush has a strong command of the issues and a battle-tested political network.


The senator from Florida is like the athlete who hasn’t played in the big game yet but has enormous potential. Rubio is behind Trump and Carson in most national polls, yet positioned to become the mainstream voters’ front-runner. First, he has to deliver. Rubio, 44, the youngest Republican candidate, needs to show some gravitas and overcome his lack of government experience. He needs to demonstrate self-assurance when discussing policy, notably immigration.


Fiorina was the star of the last debate, but any momentum has fizzled. Kasich, the governor of Ohio, got some attention in New Hampshire but has also stalled.

The potential for Fiorina to shine Wednesday night is probably higher, particularly since Hillary Clinton has solidified her status as the Democratic front-runner.

“When Republicans see her, they like her,” Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan political analyst, said of the former Hewlett-Packard CEO.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.