By Andrea Shalal and Jarrett Renshaw
(Reuters) -Former President Donald Trump skipped the first Republican debate of the 2024 election on Wednesday, but the campaign of Democratic President Joe Biden was hard at work keeping the focus on the former White House occupant.
Minutes before the eight Trump challengers began their debate, a Biden ad on the Fox News Channel broadcasting the event featured an image of a tired-looking Trump, and Biden saying: "There is no quit in America."
Much could change in the more than 14 months before the 2024 election, but for now a Biden-Trump rematch appears most likely.
Trump, the overwhelming front-runner for the Republican nomination, did a pre-recorded interview with former Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
His name only arose nearly an hour into the Fox News debate when moderators asked candidates whether they would still support Trump, who faces multiple indictments, if he were convicted.
While Biden has rarely mentioned Trump in recent months, his campaign mocked what it called Trump's "softball 'interview'" in a statement before it was broadcast and accused MAGA Republicans at the debate of supporting his "extreme and unpopular agenda" and doing Trump "impressions."
Biden supporters and the campaign pushed the message through the debate.
U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin, the leading Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said on X that Trump and Republicans added $7.8 trillion to the national debt.
"They gave the store away to the super-rich and spent us into the ground," he wrote.
Biden posted a clip of former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley who during the debate also criticized Trump's debt policies. Biden added the statement: "What she said."
No one had done more to open the door "for extreme abortion bans nationwide than Trump," a later Biden campaign statement said.
The campaign circulated a mobile billboard around the debate venue featuring "Dark Brandon," a cartoon meme of Biden, criticizing Republicans on abortion rights.
The Biden campaign on Wednesday started its third major paid ad campaign of the election cycle, a $25 million effort targeting eight battleground states that includes the first messages aimed at Latino and Black media.
The Biden campaign says it has yet to consider whether Biden will debate Trump, or what it means if Trump decides against debating in the general election in November 2024.
(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons and Howard Goller)