By now, if you’ve spent any time getting acquainted with the 2016 presidential candidates, you’re likely to be pretty familiar with what a debate is, as Republicans have held nine of them. What may not be immediately apparent is what to expect Wednesday night in one of the last nationally televised events for the GOP candidates to make their case to voters before the South Carolina primary: a town hall.
Debates are only slightly different from town halls. While debates typically rely on moderators from major networks and news organizations to ask hard-hitting questions that cut to the core of what the candidates are proposing, town halls are much more informal events that invite people in the audience — or online — to participate so candidates can be asked questions from actual voters. It’s an opportunity for the general public to ask questions that the national media may consider unimportant.
Wednesday’s town hall is the first of four such events that will take place this week. Two CNN-sponsored town halls — one Wednesday, the other Thursday — will feature the six remaining Republican White House hopefuls, three on each day. Also Wednesday night, a Donald Trump town hall event will be televised on MSNBC. The Democrats will get their town hall chance Thursday with MSNBC moderating.
The first town hall event will feature Dr. Ben Carson, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at 8 p.m. EST Wednesday on CNN. Trump's Wednesday town hall also starts at 8 p.m. The Thursday night lineup will feature former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Trump on CNN, while MSNBC will host Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Both of Thursday’s events will begin at 8 p.m. EST.