Columbia, South Carolina (CNN)- Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and John Kasich will make their case to voters of the Palmetto State at CNN’s second South Carolina town hall on Thursday night. The three will appear separately on stage to field questions from voters, as well as from moderator Anderson Cooper. The prime-time event comes just two days out from the first Southern GOP primary contest that will take place here. Trump is likely to address comments from Pope Francis that jolted the 2016 race. The Pope said the GOP front-runner is “not Christian” if he wants to deport undocumented immigrants and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump fired back during a rally at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, calling the Pope’s comments “disgraceful.” Trump also is feuding intensely with his GOP rivals in recent weeks. He has accused Ted Cruz of lying about his record and gone after Bush by insulting the legacy of his brother, former President George W. Bush. Bush is campaigning hard for a strong showing in this state, bringing both his brother and mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, out on the campaign trail this week. But the former Florida governor, who is a practicing Catholic, didn’t seize on the Pope’s comments Thursday to criticize Trump.
“I think the Pope said he might not be Christian,” Bush told CNN’s Dana Bash. “I think his Christianity is between (him) and his creator. I don’t think we need to discuss that.”
The town hall comes as Trump continues to hold a sizable lead in South Carolina. A new CNN/ORC poll released this week had the real-estate mogul on top at 38%, followed by Cruz at 22%, Marco Rubio at 14% and Jeb Bush at 10%. Ben Carson and John Kasich were at the bottom of the pack, at 6% and 4%, respectively. Cruz, Rubio and Carson participated in CNN’s first South Carolina town hall Wednesday in Greenville.
At that event, Rubio once again accused Cruz of spreading inaccurate information about his record. Cruz shrugged off being called a liar by both Rubio and Trump, saying: “Both Donald Trump and Marco Rubio are following this pattern — that whenever anyone points to their actual record … they start screaming liar, liar, liar.”