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

Andrew Burton / Getty

The next primetime Republican presidential debate is tonight in Manchester, New Hampshire. It will air on ABC, and the network has said that coverage of it will begin at 8 PM Eastern, though it is not clear if the debate will start right then or a bit after that. A live stream will be available at ABCNews.go.com.

This time around, seven candidates met Fox's polling qualifications for the primetime event. They are Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich. And, though he skipped out on the most recent GOP debate, Trump has confirmed that he'll attend this one.

Appropriately for a field that has shrunk from 17 candidates to nine, there will be no undercard debate this time around. That's bad news for Carly Fiorina, who failed to meet ABC's polling qualifications (as did former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who is indeed still running despite winning only 12 votes in the Iowa caucuses).

What to expect at the ABC Republican debate

Donald Trump's campaign is currently reeling from his unexpected defeat in the Iowa caucuses — but he's hoping New Hampshire will be the site for his comeback. After all, the billionaire has led every Granite State poll since July, and the quirky state's independent-heavy primary could be a more natural fit for Trump than the evangelical-dominated caucuses.

One key question for Trump is whom he sees as his biggest threat. It was Cruz who beat him in Iowa, and this week Trump bitterly accused the Texan of stealing the caucuses. But Trump only barely beat Marco Rubio, who outperformed expectations and currently seems to be surging in GOP polls at long last. And Rubio seems more likely to threaten Trump in New Hampshire than Cruz, whose hard-right ideological conservatism and ties to the religious right may put a ceiling on his support in the state. So whom will Trump attack, Rubio or Cruz?

That's an easy question for the three other establishment-friendly candidates who will be onstage: Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie. All see themselves as in direct competition with Rubio for that more mainstream Republican vote, and a strong performance in New Hampshire by Rubio could drive all three out of the race (though Bush is currently insisting he'll stay in at least until South Carolina). So this trio is desperate to knock Rubio down a peg; expect them to go after him hard on Saturday.

Another interesting subplot could be tension between Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, the latter of whom is upset with what he sees as underhanded tactics by the Texas senator during the Iowa caucus. (Cruz's precinct captains were instructed to spread the inaccurate story that Carson had suspended campaigning, in hopes that his caucus-goers would back Cruz instead.) Carson, whose campaign is flailing, recently criticized Cruz for using "dirty tricks." The moderators are likely to bring up this controversy, so we'll see if Carson goes after him — and how Cruz will respond.

How to watch:

When: 8 pm Eastern tonight

Where: St. Anselm's College Institute of Politics, Manchester, New Hampshire

TV: ABC

Online: ABCNews.go.com

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