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5 Remaining GOP Candidates Prepare To Debate In Houston


Tonight, the five Republicans still in the race to become the next president will debate in Houston. It's the last time they'll come together before the crucial contest on Super Tuesday. Donald Trump will take center stage with three wins so far. Needless to say, momentum is on his side. And at my side is Domenico Montanaro, NPR's political editor. Hey there, Domenico.


CORNISH: All right, so Trump, what's at stake for him tonight?

MONTANARO: Well, it's a big deal for him. I mean, it's the last debate before Super Tuesday. You know, we're not in Vegas anymore where they voted on last Tuesday, but he really needs a push, so to speak, you know, in blackjack terms. He's got to deflect a lot of the attacks that he's probably going to get from both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz who need to break through. And he needs also to look in command, in control. There were some questions marks that started about his candidacy during the last debate on whether or not he could adequately parry and appear presidential. He needs to do some of that tonight if he wants to continue to expand his base and seem like he could win over a broader swath of Republican voters.

CORNISH: You mentioned Ted Cruz. This is happening, essentially, in his backyard, right? What's his game plan tonight?

MONTANARO: Well, you're right. He grew up in Houston where this debate is taking place. And, you know, he really needs to reverse this trend of having a pretty bad couple of weeks - finishing third in Nevada, he finished third in South Carolina behind Donald Trump. He had thought that he could ride some of that momentum from Iowa into South Carolina. It didn't happen. He's going to need to beat Donald Trump on Tuesday in some places. He's going to have to hold serve, especially in Texas where he's from. He's the most popular politician in Texas, and that is the biggest cache of delegates at stake. He needs a good night.

CORNISH: And then Marco Rubio - I feel like the establishment has been waiting for him to break out, and it's been a minute.



CORNISH: It's been more than a minute.

MONTANARO: You know, the question is whether or not he's going to actually go after Donald Trump tonight. You know, he had signaled over the weekend that he had no interest in, quote, "tearing up" other Republicans. But that changed. That changed today - or yesterday where he said that Donald - he started questioning Donald Trump's ability to be a commander in chief. You know, he questioned how he would deal with the Israeli-Palestinian, you know, peace negotiations. So we'll see what kind of attacks he's going to be able to land. He's going to try to throw some punches, but they're going to have to land.

CORNISH: Now, we've got just a few seconds left here. Going into something like Super Tuesday, I mean, is a debate really do or die?

MONTANARO: Well, look, when you've got just three candidates left and - or four, essentially, if you bring in John Kasich into this, these guys all need to position themselves to those next few states to show where they're going to be because if Donald Trump runs the board on Super Tuesday at, you know, where he's favored in many places, if he does that, it makes it very difficult to catch him. So this can be pivotal. It was pivotal before New Hampshire. It can certainly be pivotal as we look to Tuesday.

CORNISH: Domenico Montanaro is NPR's political editor. Thanks so much.

MONTANARO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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