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Politics & Government

A Look Ahead To The 4th GOP Debate

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Republicans meet for their next debate in Milwaukee on Tuesday. And while it might feel as though the race has already gone on forever, this meeting comes at what seems to be a critical juncture for several of the candidates. Some of the big names in the Republican presidential field are dealing with some uncomfortable questions about their past. And we're going to talk about that now with NPR's Sarah McCammon, who's been following all this. And she's with us now. Hi, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hello.

MARTIN: So let's start with Dr. Ben Carson, who's been having a rough couple of days. There have been some questions about his stories that he has told and written about in his biographies about having a violent temper, which he says he's turned around, and also about getting a scholarship offer from West Point. What are the actual facts according to Carson?

MCCAMMON: Well, as far as the West Point question, he says he was told by supervisors in ROTC that could get in to West Point. And as far as his violent past, he says there are people that can back up those stories, but they just don't want to talk to the media. He says that's something he's never tried to hide. It's something he's confessed. I think it's worth pointing out, too, that this story that he tells, it really fits a mold for conservative Christians about redemption. You might call it a testimony. And it's common in these circles to talk about living a hard life, a sinful life and then finding salvation and kind of having a turning point. And I think that's a narrative that really resonates with many evangelicals.

MARTIN: There's another candidate though in the race who's also being asked to answer some questions, and that's Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. He has been releasing old credit card statements to deal with questions over his personal use of a credit card belonging to the Florida Republican Party. Have we learned anything new about this, and how's he responding to all this?

MCCAMMON: Well, this is an issue that's come up before for him as early as his 2010 campaign for U.S. Senate. So the back story is he had access to this Republican Party card while he was in the Florida House. And he has handled this very differently, I would say. He's come out in front of it, tried to release some additional records this weekend to demonstrate that, as he says, you know, he paid his part of the tab. Basically, he says, he went through these statements, looked at what the personal charges were - things like family reunion trips, even groceries. He's kind of leaning into this, and I think, Michel, using it as a chance to show that he's kind of a regular guy who maybe has some financial struggles sometimes. I don't think there's a smoking gun here. The bigger issue for him could be just continued scrutiny of his personal finances as his campaign picks up momentum.

MARTIN: Finally, Sarah, as we said, the debate is on Tuesday. We are seeing fewer candidates on the main stage. Does this mean that the race is finally narrowing? And how are the candidates who were kind of bumped off the main stage - how are they reacting to that?

MCCAMMON: It does feel like the pool is getting smaller. I mean, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have moved down from the top tier to the lower tier because of their standing in the polls. That's certainly a blow. But, you know, Chris Christie's kind of brushing it off. On "Fox News Sunday" this morning, he told Chris Wallace that he thinks there's too much focus on polls. And he's planning to just keep doing what he's been doing. His campaign slogan is Telling It Like It Is. He said that's his strategy for the debate, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

CHRIS CHRISTIE: I'm just going to keep being who I am. The telling it like it is part is me being myself, saying what I mean and meaning what I say. That's what I'll do on the stage Tuesday night in Milwaukee. And the next day I'll go to Iowa and just keep doing it, keep working.

MCCAMMON: I think the question for Christie and others is whether they can hang on. Even a lot of the candidates who are struggling have the backing of superPACs, and that could keep them in the race longer.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon. Thanks so much, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.