The Note: Debate Expectations: GOP Candidates Meet In Boulder


--FIGHT NIGHT IN COLORADO: The third GOP presidential debate, hosted by CNBC, takes place in Boulder, Colorado, tonight, ABC's VERONICA STRACQUALURSI notes. This time, CNBC's Carly Quintanilla, Becky Quick and John Harwood will be grilling the GOP candidates on jobs, taxes, the deficit and the health of the economy among other issues at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Before the 10 top polling candidates (Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, and John Kasich) grace the stage at 8 p.m. ET, the so-called "undercard candidates" (Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, and Lindsey Graham) will try to make their case in a 6 p.m. ET faceoff. But there have been some big changes since the first time the candidates all met on stage: Gov. Scott Walker and former Gov. Rick Perry are no longer in the race, Ben Carson is emerging as a major threat to Donald Trump's frontrunner status, and Carly Fiorina has broken into the boy's club.

--ANALYSIS -- ABC's RICK KLEIN: It may be physically and practically impossible to have a debate with Donald Trump that isn't about Donald Trump, and the likelihood of a Trump headline increases with the emergence of a new front-running target. But the topics and timing of this debate could provide some interesting action a few feet away from center stage. In a debate focused on the economy, the three senators who will be on the main stage are fired up in opposition to a spending bill their GOP colleagues on Capitol Hill helped negotiate. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in particular seem primed for breakout moments. Meanwhile, things are heating up in the establishment lane, with Jeb Bush and John Kasich sharpening their focus and their language coming in to Boulder; both have records to tout on the economy, too. The realization that Trump is vulnerable, with Ben Carson's support soft, could spark a new dynamic in the race. Who can be the most outsider of the alternatives to the pure outsiders?

--WILL TONIGHT BE CARLY'S MOMENT? Will tonight's debate offer another breakout moment for Carly Fiorina? Her strong performance in the two previous debates have helped catapult the former Hewlett-Packard CEO from her status as a barely-registering candidate to a viable contender for the Republican nomination, JORDYN PHELPS notes. But after a surge in the poll numbers following last month's debate, Fiorina's numbers have slipped from their initial post-debate peak. As she walks on to the debate stage tonight, Fiorina is in need of another boost. Despite the high stakes of the debate for her candidacy, Fiorina isn't cramming last-minute like a student for a big test. Instead, Fiorina's campaign press secretary says relaxation and focus are the keys to her prep at this point. "Carly has been preparing for the debate by doing what she has done before the other debates-- playing solitaire on her phone to stay relaxed and focused and having lunch with her husband," campaign press secretary Anna Epstein told ABC News. The candidate also hosted a live Facebook Q&A on Monday as part of her prep. "Actually answering questions from voters is one of the most important pieces of debate prep for us," Epstein said.


TODAY ON THE TRAIL with ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Hillary Clinton is back in the critical state of New Hampshire. This afternoon she will participate in the iconic Politics and Eggs at St. Anselm in Manchester, New Hampshire. This evening she is in Bartlett where she give the keynote address at the Carroll County Democratic Committee's Annual Grover Cleveland Dinner. Martin O'Malley is actually in Boulder--where all the Republicans will be today--at an event calling for gun reform legislation on the University of Colorado-Boulder campus. Bernie Sanders will be in Fairfax, Virginia this evening for a student town hall at George Mason University.



CARLY FIORINA CAMPAIGN: MONEY FROM PAID SPEECHES WENT DIRECTLY TO CHARITY. Carly Fiorina's campaign is fighting back against any appearance of wrongdoing after reports that the candidate has continued to give paid speeches since becoming a presidential candidate. Fiorina's campaign confirmed to ABC News Tuesday that the candidate has given two paid speeches since launching her White House bid. But that, in both cases, the speeches were committed to long before Fiorina was a candidate and that the money went directly to charity, ABC's JORDYN PHELPS reports. "The money never comes through us, it goes straight to charity," Fiorina's press secretary Anna Epstein said. "These were all booked at least a year out and Carly likes to keep her commitments when she can."

KASICH FIRED UP BEFORE DEBATE: In what appears to be a preview of his approach during tonight's CNBC debate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich totally changed his strategy toward his Republican rivals Tuesday, and according to reports, attacked Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Jeb Bush -- albeit without mentioning their names. "I want you know that I'm fed up," Kasich said at a debate send-off event at a barn in his hometown of Westerville, Ohio, according to the Northeast Ohio Media Group. "I am sick and tired of listening to this nonsense, and I'm going to have to call it like it is as long as I'm in this race." According to ABC's BEN GITTLESON, the criticisms mark a major shift for a candidate who has so far avoided direct attacks on the other GOP candidates while struggling to take off in the polls. Asked if these lines were a preview of Kasich's CNBC debate strategy, Kasich spokesman Chris Schrimpf told ABC News: "Part of being President is telling the truth to the American people. That's what the Governor did."

TRUMP'S MESSAGE TO IOWA: 'LET ME WIN.'Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump made his first trip to Iowa Tuesday since three state-wide polls came out that all found the New York businessman's once commanding lead is slipping away. Speaking to a crowd of 2,300 at West High School in Sioux City, Trump pleaded with the crowd for help. "Will you get these numbers up?" Trump asked the crowd. "I promise you I will do such a good job. First of all, I am a great Christian -- and I am -- I am. Remember that. And I do well with the evangelicals. But the evangelicals left me down a little bit this last month. I don't know what I did. But I am a great Christian." Trump's comments come on the heels of 3 statewide polls showing Trump's lead dropping in the Hawkeye state - the latest from Monmouth University shows Trump with 18 percent compared with retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson leading with 32 percent, ABC's JOHN SANTUCCI reports.

CLINTON CAMPAIGN RELEASES SERIES OF NEW ADS: The Clinton campaign will begin airing a new group of television ads in Iowa and New Hampshire during the Republican debate. The ads will air on broadcast and cable. The ads are similar in style. Each features the story of a working woman in New Hampshire or Iowa - such as a kindergarten teacher and a cardiac nurse - who personifies the fights for equal pay and higher incomes that Clinton has put at the center of her campaign, ABC's LIZ KREUTZ notes.

AND SO DOES HER SUPER PAC... Less than a week after launching their first television ad of the election cycle, Priorities USA Action, a Super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton, is starting to roll out its third digital buy of the campaign -- and it's a whopper. The ad features comments from candidates like Trump, Carson, Rubio and Bush interspersed with controversial comments from Rep. King, Bachmann, Christine O'Donnell and Todd Akin. The Super PAC will spend $1.5 million on a series of digital ads coming up -- this is the first one of the series. According to ABC's RYAN STRUYK, the ads won't run on TV, but will run on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.


@brennawilliams: .@LindseyGrahamSC played a round of "Date, Marry or...make disappear forever." @CNNPolitics

@jeneps: Why did Sanders get more aggressive on Clinton? "We had to fire a shot across their bow" after HRC guns comments

@rollcall: Marco Rubio has decided "love it or leave it" is an appropriate default setting for his congressional career.

@ScottFConroy: To spend a day w/ John Kasich is to experience a rare thing: A candidate who truly doesn't care how he's perceived. ...

@jimtankersley: Rallying cry from the centrist Dems @ThirdWayTweet this am: "We propose that Democrats be Democrats, not socialists."