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'Make or break campaigns': How may Gov. DeSantis fair in first Republican presidential debate?

Former President Donald Trump will not be at the debate in Milwaukee on Wednesday, making Florida Governor Ron DeSantis a candidate seen as a frontrunner on stage.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The stakes will be high Wednesday night when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will attempt to secure America's vote in the first Republican presidential debate. Former President Donald Trump will not be at the debate in Milwaukee, making DeSantis a candidate seen as a frontrunner on stage.

Polls like one from the New York Times sent out last month, show Trump is beating DeSantis in Florida. What does DeSantis need to do to move the needle? 

First Coast News asked political science professor Mike Binder, the director of the University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Lab.

"Really, it's those early Republican primary states," Binder said. "It's Iowa, it's New Hampshire, it's Nevada, those are the states that DeSantis really needs to make a push. Because if he stays buried down this far, it's gonna be over before we even get to Florida in March."

Binder says although Trump will not be one of the eight candidates on the stage for the debate, he will still be a central figure.

"Trump is going to be omnipresent at this debate," Binder said. "There'll be questions asked about him. But, then that leaves DeSantis as a potential punching bag for some of these other candidates because he is roughly the number two guy at this point."

Binder says it will be hard for any one candidate to stand out. He expects DeSantis to fire back at any political jabs.

"I think you're looking for blow up moments, either good or bad," he said. "If you really come out looking poorly, if you come out stumbling, if somebody goes after you and you don't have a response ready, if you look like you're short tempered, those are the types of things on the back end, the story, the narrative that follows the debate that keeps getting played over and over and over and can really end campaigns quickly."

The debate is at 9 p.m. and Fox News is hosting it. First Coast News will have an analysis before and after.

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