Election 2016

How Houston’s Republican Debate Could Affect The Outcome Of Super Tuesday

Twelve GOP state contests take place March 1. Together, they account for more than half the delegates needed to win the Republican presidential nomination. Texas is, by far, the biggest prize at stake.

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Just ten days remain until the 2016 GOP presidential candidates converge on the University of Houston for their next debate. It will be the final such match up before Super Tuesday — March 1 — when nearly a quarter of the delegates to the Republican National Convention will be up for grabs.

The question of whether the university would get to host its first-ever presidential debate was up in the air for months. The Republican National Committee suspended its partnership with NBC News, the scheduled moderator of the Houston debate, back in October.

Houston Public Media's Coverage of Election 2016

Houston Public Media's Coverage of Election 2016

"We went through a very long process with NBC in the summer [of 2015] to become the selected host site for the debate," says Richie Hunter, the university's vice president for marketing, "and once CNN was named the media partner, we went through a similar process with them. Obviously, it was accelerated, but we still had to go through all of the same steps."

The Moores Opera House  on the University of Houston campus.
The Moores Opera House on the University of Houston campus.

Just who will be on the Moores Opera House stage depends on voters in other states. Poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire knocked five Republicans and one Democrat out of the running. There are still two more contests, the South Carolina primary and the Nevada Caucus, before the Houston debate.

"In terms of what happens with a truncated stage, with fewer folks, is that there's a [greater] level of seriousness," says Joe Brettell, a Republican strategist with the Houston office of Fleishman Hillard. "We're getting down to where people are really evaluating the candidates as they speak for, ‘Hey, could I vote for this guy?'"

A strong performance at next week's debate may not be enough to win the Texas Republican primary, let alone sweep all of the Super Tuesday contests. But a weak showing could be costly. Just ask Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Most observers, including Rubio himself, blamed his near collapse in New Hampshire on his flubbing the last debate before the Granite State's primary.

NOTE: Tickets for the February 25 debate are available only through the Republican National Committee. The University of Houston has no tickets to distribute.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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