GREENVILLE, S.C. Republican presidential candidates urged President Barack Obama on Saturday not to nominate a successor to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, saying it should be up to the next president to decide.
Scalia's death, announced earlier on Saturday, and the consequences for the conservatives' 5-4 advantage on the high court cast a shadow over the ninth debate between rivals for the Republican presidential nomination for the Nov. 8 election.
"I would like the president for once here to put the country first," Ohio Governor John Kasich said at the outset of the two-hour debate hosted by CBS. "We’re going to have an election very soon ... I think we should let the next president of the United States decide."
Obama, speaking shortly before the debate began, said he planned to nominate a successor to Scalia and said the U.S. Senate should give the nominee careful consideration.
The Republican candidates were unanimous in saying Obama should put off a decision. Republican front-runner Donald Trump said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should ensure that any Obama nominee is blocked from confirmation.
"Delay, delay, delay," Trump said.
With a week to go until South Carolina's Republican primary vote on Feb. 20, the debate came at a time of high anxiety for Trump's opponents.
Trump, who won New Hampshire handily on Tuesday after placing second in Iowa on Feb. 1, has a big lead in the polls in South Carolina. Unless he is slowed down, he could be in position to roll to his party's presidential nomination for the November election.
That means it was in the interests of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush to try to raise questions about the New York billionaire before it is too late.
Those three candidates, along with Ohio Governor John Kasich, are competing to emerge as the top alternative to Trump for mainstream Republicans.
(Editing by Mary Milliken, W Simon and Bill Trott)
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