The GOP debate is tonight! Here's what you need to know

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Why the GOP Has So Many Debates

Less than two weeks after a raucous CNBC debate, Republican candidates will be back at it again Tuesday night as they take the stage for the fourth time this presidential cycle.

Fox Business, which is hosting this debate, has promised that the debate will avoid the problems of the CNBC affair, which turned into a saga for Republican Party leadership.


The Republican National Committee suspended its partnership with NBC for another scheduled debate next year after accusing CNBC of bias, and GOP candidates went back and forth on a list of demands for future debates that ultimately fell apart.

If the Fox Business debate on Tuesday becomes a spirited economic discussion, it could open up opportunities for a range of candidates.

Real-estate tycoon Donald Trump frequently boasts he would be the "best jobs president" ever. Jeb Bush prominently touts his economic record from when he was Florida's governor. And Carly Fiorina's poll standings have whittled over the past few weeks amid scrutiny over her record during her time as CEO at Hewlett-Packard.

Though it remains crowded, the field has thinned out somewhat. Eight candidates will take the stage for the prime-time debate Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET, while four others qualified for the lower-tier, "undercard" debate at 7 p.m.


According to Real Clear Politics' average of five recent national polls, here's a look at where the candidates stand entering Tuesday night. From the top tier:

  • Donald Trump, real-estate magnate: 24.8% average as of Wednesday (down from a 26.8% average before the October debate)
  • Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon: 24.4% (up from 22%)
  • Marco Rubio, US senator from Florida: 11.8% (up from 9%)
  • Ted Cruz, US senator from Texas: 9.6% (up from 6.6%)
  • Jeb Bush, former Florida governor: 6% (down from 7%)
  • Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett Packard CEO: 3% (down from 5.8%)
  • Rand Paul, US senator from Kentucky: 3% (down from 3.4%)
  • John Kasich, Ohio governor: 3% (up from 2.6%)

U.S. Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at a campaign town hall meeting in Nashua, New Hampshire November 4, 2015.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder

And the bottom tier:

  • Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor: 2.4% (down from 3.8%)
  • Chris Christie, New Jersey governor: 2.2% (down from 2.4%)
  • Rick Santorum, former US senator from Pennsylvania: 0.8% (up from 0.6%)
  • Bobby Jindal, Louisiana governor: 0.8% (up from 0.2%)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and former Gov. George Pataki of New York did not qualify for either debate.

Who needs a big night?

The better question might be, as always: Who doesn't?

But this second debate will prove especially important for some names near the top who remain little known — and some big names who have slipped over the past month.

For Rubio and Cruz, the pundit class' consensus winners of the CNBC debate, the goal is to keep the momentum going.

"Rubio and Cruz were both (in our opinion) the winners of the previous debate and generally do very well on the debate stage -- and both will need to continue to do well to sustain their momentum," said Chris Krueger, an analyst at Guggenheim Securities.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson gives a speech at a 'Building the New Puerto Rico' event in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, November 8, 2015. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Rubio has racked up a slew of committed, high-profile donors and endorsements over the past two weeks. Bush, Rubio's one-time ally in Florida politics, has meanwhile continued to slump in polls after a debate performance for which he was roundly criticized.

For Bush, the consensus -- again -- is that his campaign needs a jolt.

"Bush has had a fairly dismal debate performance, and with expectations pretty low he could actually have a strong evening: In politics it is always best to under-promise and over-deliver," Krueger said.

Finally, the Fox Business debate will come as Carson, who has achieved co-front-running status with Trump, is facing the most scrutiny yet during his extraordinary candidacy.

Carson has spent the past few days on the defensive amid new questions about his background. He has responded by savaging the media. The debate will provide an important test: Will fellow candidates attempt to pile on the questioning?

For his part, Trump has not been shy to play up the questionable stories about Carson's background.

"It's a whole weird deal going on here. So I don't know," Trump said on Fox News' "Fox & Friends" on Monday. "Look, I hope everything's going to be OK for Ben. I've had a good relationship with Ben. I hope it works out. I hope this isn't going to be disqualifying. And maybe it will, maybe it won't."

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The GOP debate field is set -- and 2 high-profile candidates are out

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