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GOP Candidates Meet Again: What's Changed, and What to Watch For


The remaining Republican candidates for president — or, most of them, anyway — will meet in South Carolina tonight for the sixth debate of the primary season.

There have been a few notable developments since the last time the candidates debated in December.

For one, two more candidates -- Lindsey Graham and George Pataki -- have bowed out of the race. The group on tonight's main stage has been culled even further — down to seven candidates from the nine who appeared last time, making it the smallest debate so far.

The unlucky two booted from the main stage for the upcoming debate were Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul. Paul has decided to sit out of the so-called “undercard” forum in protest of the  criteria used to pick who appears in the prime time event. (As with past debates, this one relied on a mix of national and early state polling averages.)

With the candidates stepping up their rhetoric and the opening contests inching closer by the day, here’s a rundown of what to watch for tonight:

  • NBC News and the New York Times agree: The No. 1 storyline is a potential kerfuffle between the two frontrunners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. "The question we have for tonight,” Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann write for NBC, “Do the GOP frontrunners play nice? Or do they go to war?”
  • But NPR suggests that another battle might be even more intense, one focused closer to home: “There's a battle royale going on among the establishment candidates, all trying to edge the other out, especially in New Hampshire. They believe whichever of them emerges in New Hampshire can consolidate enough support to defeat Trump.” 
  • Fox News also projects at least a few rebuttals to President Obama’s State of the Union address earlier this week: “Expect strong words on the President’s omission of the situation on Farsi island, his post-San Bernardino emphasis on guns and not domestic terrorism, his invoking the word 'Muslim' only in conjunction with hate crimes, plus his insistence that America’s global influence isn’t in decline.” 

The debates will air live starting at 6 p.m., with the main debate starting at 9 p.m., on Fox Business, as well as on FoxBusiness.com