POLITICS

Rubio and Cruz look to continue upward momentum in 3rd GOP debate

While most eyes during Wednesday night’s GOP presidential debate will be on a surging Ben Carson – and, of course, the always boisterous Donald Trump – the two Latino candidates on stage could play big roles in this third meeting of Republican heavyweights.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who saw his poll numbers and fundraising shoot up following a strong performance in the last debate, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has surprised many with his third place status in Iowa polls, will both be looking to continue on the upward trend during the debate in Colorado.

Painted by many as the establishment wing of the Republican party’s youth candidate, Rubio has recently been under fire from his longtime mentor and now rival, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Bush, whose campaign recent dubbed Rubio as the "GOP Obama," sees the young senator as his main contender for the nomination, especially as the former governor has seen both his poll numbers and his coffers shrink in recent weeks. 

While Rubio hasn’t seen huge jumps in either his fundraising or his poll numbers, he has remained close to the front and is known as strong debater, especially when it comes to topics such as foreign policy and immigration.

"He sits close to the party’s center ideologically, and his favorable ratings with Republicans are consistently strong," wrote Ross Douthat of the New York Times. "He’s an effective debater with a great personal story and an appealing style, and a more impressive policy portfolio than most of his rivals."

The problem for Rubio on Wednesday is that the policy that will get the most attention – especially given that the debate is hosted by CNBC – will be tax reform.

While Rubio recently laid out his tax reform strategy – including reducing the number of brackets from seven to three, cutting rates for businesses and eliminating the double-taxation on savings and investment income – he runs the risk of being overshadowed by his fellow candidates taking swings at front-runner Trump for being a so-called "conservative-in-name-only."

One candidate who could benefit from the economy-based subject line of Wednesday’s debate is Cruz, who has a drastic plan to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and replace it with a flat tax that would let Americans file their returns on a post card.

Cruz’s ideas – on the economy and other subjects – are considered more extreme than some of his counterparts' in the presidential field, but observers and his fellow lawmakers say that, given his support among the party’s base, he could have staying power.

"Ted Cruz, you should never underestimate him, he’s extremely smart," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, told the New York Observer. "If he can thread a needle, figure out how to get all those Trump voters if Trump falls, he will figure out how to do that."

Cruz will also be looking to continue a wave of good fortune that has seen him shoot up to third in the early Iowa caucus polls, behind Carson and Trump. Cash reports this month also showed Cruz sitting on the most money of any Republican candidate in the field – as contenders like Bush cut staff.

"He’s not to be underestimated," Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, told Politico. "I think he stands a pretty good chance of cornering the right-wing vote, which is remarkable given how large the field is."

The CNBC debate, dubbed "Your Money, Your Vote," starts at 8p.m. EST and will run for two hours.

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