(CNN) — Four candidates have qualified for the fourth GOP presidential primary debate taking place Wednesday night in Alabama, the Republican National Committee and debate broadcaster NewsNation announced Monday.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will face off in Tuscaloosa in what will be the smallest debate stage lineup so far this year. Former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP nomination, will skip the event, as he has all previous debates and will instead attend a fundraiser in Florida for a super PAC supporting his candidacy.
Monday’s announcement comes with just six weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses open the 2024 GOP nomination calendar and as DeSantis and Haley compete fiercely to be seen as the top primary rival to Trump.
To make the Tuscaloosa stage, candidates had to meet higher donor and polling criteria set by the Republican National Committee. They had to have at least 80,000 unique donors, with at least 200 in 20 states or territories. They also had to register at least 6% in two qualifying national polls or in one national poll and two polls from separate early-voting states: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada. Similar to conditions for past debates, the RNC also required candidates to sign a pledge committing to support the eventual GOP nominee.
Earlier in the day, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum pushed back at the RNC’s tightening of the debate qualification thresholds while announcing that he was ending his campaign for the GOP nomination.
“The RNC’s clubhouse debate requirements are nationalizing the primary process and taking the power of democracy away from the engaged, thoughtful citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire,” said Burgum, who qualified for the first two debates but not last month’s third debate in Miami.
“These arbitrary criteria ensure advantages for candidates from major media markets on the coasts versus America’s Heartland. None of their debate criteria relate to the qualifications related to actually doing the job of the president. This effort to nationalize the primary system is unhealthy for the future of the party, especially for a party that proclaims to value leadership from outside of Washington,” he added.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson remains in the GOP race, though he has not qualified for any primary debates since his appearance at the first face-off in Milwaukee in August.
Meanwhile, ahead of the debate, officials from President Joe Biden’s campaign and several prominent Democrats, including former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, plan to hold a news conference Wednesday in Tuscaloosa to highlight “how Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans’ agenda is on display in Alabama and the stakes of the 2024 election,” according to a news release from the Biden campaign.