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Who are the candidates at the GOP debate in Milwaukee, and what are their backgrounds?

The Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, where Republican candidates for president will gather for their first debate on Aug. 23, 2023. (AP) The Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, where Republican candidates for president will gather for their first debate on Aug. 23, 2023. (AP)

The Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, where Republican candidates for president will gather for their first debate on Aug. 23, 2023. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson August 22, 2023

As most of the Republican presidential candidates prepare to take the stage for the first debate in Milwaukee, here’s a rundown on who they are.

Who will appear at the debate?

Eight Republicans will appear at the debate, which will air from 9. to 11 p.m. Aug. 23 on Fox News Channel; Fox Business Network;; Fox Nation, Fox's on-demand subscription platform; and the streaming service Rumble.

The participants are North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former Vice President Mike Pence, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

A ninth candidate, former President Donald Trump, qualified, but has chosen not to participate.

Four candidates missed the Republican National Committee’s polling and fundraising threshold. They are: Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, businessman Perry Johnson and radio host Larry Elder.

What major offices have the candidates held?

Of the nine Republican candidates invited to the debate, eight have held elected office. 

Trump and Pence have served as president and vice president, respectively. Six have served as governors, two currently (DeSantis and Burgum) and four previously (Pence in Indiana, Hutchinson, Haley and Christie).

One candidate, Scott, is a sitting senator, while four have served in the House: Pence, DeSantis, Hutchinson and Scott.

Haley served in Trump’s Cabinet as United Nations ambassador.

Ramaswamy has not held elected office.

How many of the candidates are lawyers?

More than half the 2024 GOP candidates have law degrees, though not all have practiced law in recent years. Of these, the most prominent figures in the law have probably been Christie, who served as a U.S. attorney in New Jersey, and Hutchinson, who was a U.S. attorney in Arkansas. 

Here’s where the candidates earned their law degrees:

Christie (Seton Hall University)

DeSantis (Harvard University)

Hutchinson (University of Arkansas)

Pence (Indiana University)

Ramaswamy (Yale University )

Suarez and Elder, who did not qualify for the debate, also have law degrees (from the University of Florida and University of Michigan, respectively). 

One candidate, Burgum, earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University.

Who has served in the military?

Among the nine Republican candidates invited to debate, only DeSantis has military service, having risen to lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. He served on active duty between 2004 and 2010 and then for nine more years in the reserves. (DeSantis used his law degree as a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, including in service at the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba.)

How old are the candidates?

The oldest Republican or Democratic candidate is President Joe Biden, at 80

Trump is the GOP field’s eldest candidate at 77.

Among Republicans who will be on stage, only Hutchinson is in his 70s. Pence, Burgum and Christie are in their 60s; Scott and Haley are in their 50s; DeSantis is 44; and Ramaswamy is 38.

Ramaswamy is roughly the age Democrat Pete Buttigieg was when the future transportation secretary ran for president in 2020. 

How diverse are the Republicans on stage?

Scott is Black, and Haley and Ramaswamy have South Asian ancestry. Among the candidates who didn’t qualify, Suarez is Hispanic, Elder is Black, and Hurd is multiracial — making this the most diverse Republican field in history.

The previous GOP field with the most racial and ethnic diversity was in 2016, when one Black candidate (Ben Carson) and two Hispanic candidates (Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz) sought the nomination.

Alan Keyes, who is Black, ran long shot Republican bids in 1996, 2000 and 2008.

How many women are running?

Haley is the  2024 Republican field’s lone woman.

That’s par for the course in contested Republican primaries this century. In 2000, former Cabinet member and future North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole ran. In 2012, then-Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota ran. In 2016, corporate executive Carly Fiorina ran.

How have the candidates fared on PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter?

Of candidates in either party, we’ve fact-checked Biden the most this year, at 24 times. Biden hasn’t had any True or Pants on Fire ratings, but he’s had a roughly equal number of Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False and False ratings.

Among Republicans who qualified for the debate, we’ve fact-checked Trump the most this year, with 17 checks. Most of Trump’s checks ended up in the lower half of our meter: four Mostly False, eight False and two Pants on Fire ratings. (Trump is also our overall fact-check leader with 979.)

DeSantis had the second-highest number of fact-checks of any Republican this year, with 14. No other GOP candidate had more than seven fact-checks in 2023.

Did you know? Facts about the GOP field

Doug Burgum: He started a chimney sweep business in college.

Chris Christie: He has attended more than 100 Bruce Springsteen concerts.

Ron DeSantis: He married his wife, Casey, at the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando, Florida, in 2009.

Nikki Haley: She has long gone by her middle name, Nikki, which means "little one" in Punjabi. 

Asa Hutchinson: He succeeded his brother, Tim, in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Mike Pence: He was friendly with actor Woody Harrelson at Hanover College in the 1980s.

Vivek Ramaswamy: He has publicly rapped Eminem’s "Lose Yourself."

Tim Scott: At 16, he survived a serious car accident that derailed what could have been a promising football career.

Will Hurd: He speaks Urdu, a language widely used in Pakistan, where Hurd worked undercover for the CIA.

Francis Suarez: He was believed to be the first elected official in the U.S. to receive his salary in bitcoin.

Perry Johnson: He has won five National Bridge Championships and finished eighth in an international championship in 1998.

Other PolitiFact coverage of the GOP candidates

How accurate are 2024 Republican presidential candidates' attacks on one another?

Checking GOP presidential candidates' attacks on Joe Biden, Democrats ahead of first primary debate

Pence's point on gender-affirming care for minors ignores parental consent rules for tattoos

To limit fentanyl supply, Tim Scott wants Title 42-like restrictions. Experts say they won’t help

Ron DeSantis’ baseless theory that the government wants to control people’s purchases

Immigration plans by Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis face obstacles

Fact-checking Donald Trump on his economy and Joe Biden’s

8 Pants on Fire statements by Donald Trump about Georgia 2020 election

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Who are the candidates at the GOP debate in Milwaukee, and what are their backgrounds?