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Republican debate 2016: start time, schedule, and what to expect

The next primetime Republican presidential debate started tonight at 9 pm Eastern. It is taking place in Des Moines, Iowa and airing on the Fox News Channel. A live stream is free and available to all at FoxNews.com.

This time around, eight candidates met Fox's polling qualifications for the primetime event. They are Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb BushJohn Kasich, and Rand Paul. However, Trump's campaign decided to skip the debate because he believes moderator Megyn Kelly to be "really biased."

An earlier undercard debate has already concluded. The candidates who participated were Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and, in a bit of a surprise, Jim Gilmore, a little-known candidate who barely seems to be campaigning and who hadn't been let into an undercard since Fox News's very first one.

Importantly, this will be the final debate before this Monday's Iowa caucuses kick off the voting in the presidential contest.

What to expect at the Fox News Republican debate

The first and perhaps biggest drama was about Trump's decision not to show up. Instead, he's holding a competing event he's billing as a fundraiser for veterans. It's not clear whether Trump's move here is a stroke of genius or a devastating blunder that will sink his campaign — I explored some of the possibilities here. Regardless, his stunt has already dominated media coverage in the hours before the debate.

Beyond Trump's absence, the spotlight will be on Ted Cruz. For a few months now, Cruz has been thought to be the favorite to win the Iowa caucuses. But a series of new polls have come out showing Trump shooting past him and Cruz declining somewhat. So Cruz's top priority will be to make the sale to Iowans — specifically to the traditional conservative and evangelical base whose pulses he's spent years taking.

The other big drama remains, of course, the battle for New Hampshire. Every poll agrees that Trump is winning there. However, four establishment-friendly candidates — Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie — are all locked in a tight battle for second place (and Ted Cruz is in the mix, too). So even though Trump remains dominant, these candidates will likely spend a great deal of time squabbling with each other, since they are all hoping a strong Granite State showing will rejuvenate their campaigns.

How to watch:

When: 9 pm Eastern tonight

Where: Iowa Events Center, Des Moines

TV: Fox News Channel

Online: A free live stream at FoxNews.com


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