Former President Donald Trump has declined to attend the third GOP debate in Miami, opting for a nearby rally.

Former President Donald Trump will not attend the third Republican debate in Miami. Despite an invitation and a challenge from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who threatened to put a boot on his head if Trump attended, Trump elected to host a rally in Hialeah, mere miles away from the debate location.

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The absence of Trump, who is presently leading in polls, has created a major void on the debate stage. During the previous two debates, Trump’s opponents avoided directly addressing him. As the Iowa caucuses approach, some contenders may feel compelled to acknowledge his participation in the contest.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy are set to participate in the debate. These contenders have met the Republican National Committee’s donor and polling requirements, distinguishing them from North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who did not qualify.

The debate could also feature a fight between Haley and DeSantis, who are viewed as Trump’s two biggest opponents. Recent polls show Trump leading by a wide margin, making it critical for the other contenders to stand out and shift the course of the Republican primary campaign.

Furthermore, given the event’s partnership with the Republican Jewish Coalition and the GOP’s efforts to appeal to pro-Israel voters, the Israel-Hamas conflict is expected to be a key topic in the debate. While the Republican candidates generally favor Israel, there are some variances, with DeSantis taking a tougher approach and Ramaswamy recommending a phased reduction in aid to Israel.

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The Miami debate is one of the candidates’ final chances to make their case to voters before the Iowa caucuses. It’s an opportunity for DeSantis and Haley to cement their positions as the primary alternatives to Trump, while other candidates will try to separate out and clinch their spots in the upcoming debates.

The absence of Trump in the debate adds drama to the ongoing contest for the Republican presidential nomination as the stage narrows and the campaign heats up.