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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Five things to watch in tonight's GOP debate

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks in Washington last week. Donald Trump will be standing at center stage, but Cruz will be in the spotlight during Tuesday's Republican presidential debate. The Texas senator is challenging Trump's lead in Iowa, and has the money, campaign infrastructure and conservative appeal to compete deep into the GOP primary season.

[Associated Press]

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks in Washington last week. Donald Trump will be standing at center stage, but Cruz will be in the spotlight during Tuesday's Republican presidential debate. The Texas senator is challenging Trump's lead in Iowa, and has the money, campaign infrastructure and conservative appeal to compete deep into the GOP primary season.

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December

Coverage of tonight's early Republican presidential debate begins at 6 p.m. on CNN. The prime time debate featuring the nine top candidates follows at 8:30 p.m.

Five things to watch:

Marco Rubio vs. Ted Cruz. The Texas Republican is in flight and Rubio wants (needs?) to stop him. Watch for Rubio to criticize Cruz for voting to reel in parts of the NSA's surveillance program and Cruz to go after Rubio on immigration or Libya. They can both debate well so which one comes across as more genuine?

Donald Trump vs. Ted Cruz. A clandestine recording of Cruz questioning Trump's fitness for the job has given Trump reason to attack. Can the surging Cruz avoid getting dragged into a fight or at least seem ready to stand up to pressure?

Is Jeb Bush even relevant? This time there's less noise about him needing a campaign-saving performance but the bar remains higher for Bush. He's worked to insert himself in the national security debate so look for him to stake out a tough position and attempt to project himself as more seasoned and steady than his rivals. Does he take another crack at Trump? Bush has to do well.

Christie's moment. Chris Christie has resurrected himself, somewhat, and has to show he belongs. Like Bush, look for him to project readiness to step into the White House. 

Immigration. It's Nevada so the immigration debate should surface. So far Rubio has avoided much attention on his role in writing the Senate's comprehensive bill but Cruz has already latched onto that. Does Rubio come across as uncomfortable or play up a harder line? There is also the discussion on Syrian refugees and Trump's Muslim ban. Do other candidates openly bash Trump or take a more careful approach as Cruz has done.

[Last modified: Saturday, December 19, 2015 6:53pm]

    

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