Everything is on the line tonight as Republican presidential candidates prepare to hash it out on stage for the first time since the Iowa caucuses -– and for the last time before Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.
This debate, hosted by ABC News and held at St. Anselm College, will offer Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, former Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. Chris Christie and Gov. John Kasich a chance to make their pitches to voters of the Granite State.
Here are the five things to watch for in tonight’s debate:
1. Rubio Rising
After a strong third place finish in Iowa, all eyes will turn to the GOP contender who is rising in the polls: Marco Rubio.
The Florida senator hasn’t been the main target in previous debates -- that honor has mostly gone to Cruz and Trump -- but he’s likely to have a bull’s-eye on his back tonight. Still, Rubio hasn’t yet carved out a clear path to winning an early state, and he needs a strong debate performance to even approach Trump’s support in the Granite State.
2. Trump Unleashed
Right before the Iowa caucuses, Donald Trump bragged that he was beating Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in every major poll. However, the Cruz campaign’s strong ground game and old-fashioned campaigning outmaneuvered the business mogul’s savvy media presence and outmatched and the attendance at his rallies.
At tonight’s debate, expect Trump to take the gloves off. In particular, Trump has already demonstrated his willingness to take on Cruz for his campaign’s role in spreading rumors that Dr. Ben Carson was dropping out of the presidential race.
3. Governors’ Last Stand
Between Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie, there is probably only one ticket out of the Granite State and all three current and former governors are keeping their eyes on the prize.
Kasich and Bush are in dead heat in New Hampshire with 8 percent support in recent polls. Christie trails behind at 5 percent, according to a UMass Lowell poll released Friday.
At a campaign stop in Claremont, New Hampshire this week, Kasich told a crowd of supporters if he gets “smoked” in the primaries he will likely quit the race.
Meanwhile, in an appearance on “Good Morning America,” Christie said he will “keep working” regardless of the outcome of the primaries.
4. Ted’s Take
We’re not in Iowa anymore. Yes, Cruz got a big win in the Hawkeye State, but will he have appeal in the Granite State? Already polls show signs of slippage.
With Trump ahead at 34 percent in the latest UMass-Lowell tracking poll and Rubio on the rise with 15 percent, Cruz has fallen one point behind to 14 percent -- taking third place.
But more than four in ten GOP voters in the Granite State haven’t made up their minds, according to the poll.
5. Keeping Up With Carson
The doctor is in, and he’s not pleased.
In the days since Iowa, the Carson campaign has accused the Cruz campaign of “dirty tricks” to dampen his support in the caucuses. The former neurosurgeon even held a hastily-arranged news conference in Washington, DC earlier this week to make his case. Carson will almost certainly not miss an opportunity to bring this up tonight.
And, of course, we’ll be watching for those freshly-laundered clothes.