GOP debate in Cleveland nears: ‘This is about helping Republicans choose’

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CLEVELAND – As the Republican presidential candidates prepare for their moment in the spotlight, preparations are underway inside Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Fox 8 News had exclusive access as crews put podiums in place on the stage and set up lighting and cameras ahead of Thursday’s Fox News debate.

Continuing coverage of the Republican presidential debate in Cleveland here

Red, white and blue LED panels will form a backdrop behind the candidates. A black curtain separates the main stage and audience seating from a back stage “spin room,” where campaign representatives will speak with members of the media after the debate.

Fox News Digital Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt said he is assisting moderators Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier with crafting tough, but revealing questions about policies and qualifications.

“This is not about ‘got ya’ or ‘you said, she said, he said.’ This is about helping Republicans choose,” Stirewalt said. “It’s a big, complicated field this cycle. It’s the most you’ve ever had, so for Republicans, they’ve got to figure this out.”

Candidate placement will be based on rank in the polls, with the leading candidate at center stage. Donald Trump is the current frontrunner.

“I know he knows what works on stage,” Stirewalt said. “What works on stage isn’t being pushy or bullying or taking other people’s time.”

A dozen local college volunteers will “stand in” for the candidates during preparations. That includes James Oaks, a Miami University freshman from North Canton, who will be Trump’s stand-in.

“I think it’s a big day for Donald Trump. Everyone’s saying it’s the Donald Trump show, so it will be interesting to see how he does,” Oaks said.

The volunteers will play candidates during lighting, audio and camera checks.

“The opportunity to see the behind the scenes and the inner-workings of it is really awesome,” said Christian Pancake, a junior at Kent State University and chairman of the Ohio College Republican Federation.

The debate marks the beginning of a year-long cycle of elimination as the field of candidates is narrowed to one, who will be officially nominated at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July 2016.

“This is political ground zero,” Stirewalt said, adding that many Republican voters will be trying to figure out who is best suited to beat Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in a general election.

FOX 8 News and fox8.com will provide continuing coverage of Thursday’s debate with exclusive content. It starts with FOX 8 News in the Morning, broadcasting live from inside Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday. Then flip to FOX 8 at the end of the debate for a 11 p.m. special.

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