ORLANDO, Florida – All but one of the Republican presidential candidates will appeal to conservative voters in a key swing state cattle call this weekend, and they’re bringing a growing number of inter-candidate feuds to the Sunshine State.
Sen. Marco Rubio will kick off the main event at 11 a.m. The relatively young, Cuban-American senator may enjoy some home field advantage, but it may not last for long, as the other young, Cuban-American senator – Ted Cruz – will speak shortly thereafter. Possible backstage run-ins may be a bit tense, as the pair spent Thursday feuding publicly in the media, each criticizing the other for his stance on immigration as the two attempt to stand out in the crowded field.
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Theirs isn’t the only feud that may show up during the weekend, as 13 presidential candidates seek to differentiate themselves over the two-day Sunshine Summit. With less than three months until the first primary votes, many have begun criticizing each other more vocally .
“The gloves are off,” Donald Trump declared Thursday night in Iowa, where he slammed his closest rival in the polls, Dr. Ben Carson for having a “pathological anger”; both will speak within an hour of each other on Friday in Orlando.
The state’s former governor, Jeb Bush, will speak Friday afternoon, hours after his former mentee and key rival, Rubio, takes the stage. After several lackluster debate performances, Bush is searching for a comeback and his home state has historically been a place of strength for him. Still, he’s so far struggled to convince voters that he’s the more qualified Florida Republican to run for office. Rubio successfully painted Bush as out of touch in a recent debate.
Both Rubio and Bush were invited to speak to their home state’s Republican Party on Thursday night at a dinner preceding the summit. Bush chose to campaign in New Hampshire, but Rubio accepted, making Florida-centric jokes and even touching on the race’s inevitable feuds before taking a party-unifying stand.
“We’re going to have our debates. We’re going to have our intra-party competition. People will say things to point out differences among us,” Rubio said. “But this election we cannot afford to lose because the consequences are extraordinary.”
Rubio closed out the night with a rallying cry: “Let’s go win!”
Also on Friday’s roster are Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, both of whom were downgraded in their debate standings this week due to low poll numbers. Graham was barred completely from both debates, while Huckabee was relegated to the undercard event. In Florida, both will seek to regain their lost footing.
Trump and Carson will speak last after eight hours of a packed schedule on Friday. The billionaire businessman will surely bring his usual bombast and unscripted style to the eighth hour of the conference as he strives to maintain his strength in the race as Carson gains on him in national polls. Trump may continue his tough criticism of Carson; on Thursday night, he slammed Carson in an interview with CNN and at a rally in Iowa.
While Carson has shied away from feuding with anyone (except for the press), he will likely seek to turn the conversation back to the issues he wants to talk about after weeks of media questions about the credibility of his personal stories and his friendship with a convicted felon.
On Saturday, a handful of lower polling presidential candidates will speak. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich will all make their appeals to the state’s conservative voters. The third and final political outsider running, Carly Fiorina, will close out the night.
Former New York Gov. George Pataki is the only candidate who won’t be speaking; he is polling close to zero.