GOP debate headed to Detroit in March

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The Republican National Committee and Fox News Channel will add a GOP presidential debate on March 3 in Detroit, five days before Michigan’s primary.

The two-hour debate will be presented live at 9 p.m. on the Fox News Channel as well as the network’s other platforms, including FOX News Radio, FOX News Mobile and, the network said Thursday.

“Special Report” anchor Bret Baier, “The Kelly File” anchor Megyn Kelly and “FOX News Sunday” host Chris Wallace will serve as moderators.

New York billionaire Donald Trump skipped the Jan. 28 Republican presidential debate in Iowa in part because one of the three Fox News moderators was Kelly, with whom he feuded during an August debate because she asked him about disparaging remarks he has made over the years about women.

Trump called Kelly a “lightweight” and a “third-rate reporter” and instead held a veterans fundraiser that generated $6 million — including his own $1 million contribution. The real estate developer led in Iowa polls prior to the debate, but finished second in the caucuses behind U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and barely ahead of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

He hasn’t given any indication what he might decide about the future Fox News debate.

“Primary voters expect a candidate to show up and be part of the process,” said John Truscott, a Lansing-based public relations expert and former spokesman for three-term Republican Gov. John Engler.

“With the field narrowing rapidly, the remaining candidates are quickly consolidating votes. It would be a huge strategic blunder for Trump to skip the debate at this crucial time and could be a deciding factor for a number of voters.”

It’s unlikely Trump will avoid another debate, said Larry Sabato, founder and director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“Trump lost Iowa and has himself said his debate decision contributed to it,” Sabato said. “Let’s see what happens in New Hampshire, but I don’t think Trump is going to be in any position to refuse participation in the Michigan debate.”

Discussions have been underway for weeks to add a debate in Michigan ahead of the March 8 primary, according to three high-level Republican officials with knowledge of the negotiations.

The Fox Theatre is being considered as a location for the debate, two sources told The News.

A debate in Michigan is likely to intensify the campaign battle here for the state’s 59 delegates, which will be proportionally awarded to presidential candidates who earn at least 15 percent of the statewide vote.

The Democratic National Committee announced Wednesday it will host a March 6 debate in Flint between Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Clinton and Sanders will square off at 9 p.m. Thursday in a DNC-sanctioned debate broadcast on MSNBC from the University of New Hampshire in Durham. MSNBC will broadcast the debate.

The next Republican presidential debate is scheduled for Saturday night at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. ABC will carry the GOP debate.