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Republican debate 2015: Start time, schedule, and what to expect

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The second Republican presidential debate is Wednesday at 8 pm Eastern. It will take place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, and you can watch it on CNN or online at CNN.com.

The primetime debate will feature 11 candidates — Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Rand Paul, and Chris Christie. An earlier segment for candidates who aren't polling as well will air at 6 pm Eastern, and will feature Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, and George Pataki.

What to expect at the second GOP debate

With Donald Trump having led the polls nationally for two months now, this debate is sure to be an intense contest. The other candidates' donors are getting restless, and are anxious for someone to take Trump down. Yet anyone who's tried to challenge him directly has fared poorly so far. The billionaire is a fantastic improviser, and taking him on live is dangerous.

Still, at this point, Jeb Bush might have to do so. The onetime favorite has recently gotten some of his worst poll results all year, with his support falling all the way down to 6 percent in a CBS News/New York Times poll. Trump has repeatedly mocked him as a low-energy candidate — a taunt that practically demands Bush respond. Expect him to try to contrast his conservative record as governor of Florida with Trump's heterodox views.

Scott Walker — the onetime leader in Iowa and New Hampshire who has gotten dreadful polling results lately — is also under a great deal of pressure. As I wrote after the first debate, his tepid performance onstage showed he hadn't solved his biggest problem: how to stand out among the crowded field. But his collapse in polls afterward, down to the low single digits nationally and fourth place or worse in Iowa, was more dramatic than I ever expected. He's going to have to make a big move at this debate, or his supporters and backers will lose even more confidence in his candidacy.

Then there's Ben Carson, who's recently surged into second place nationally and in early states. The retired pediatric surgeon is another outsider figure, but Republicans liked what he had to say when he was asked about race in the first debate. Don't expect him to pick any fights, though — his laconic, positive approach has worked well for him so far, and made him a notable contrast to Trump.

Another outsider, Carly Fiorina, got a surge of attention (and a mini-surge in polls) after being judged the winner of Fox News's earlier debate segment, for candidates who weren't polling as well. So CNN decided to change its rules to let her on the main stage. Trump was quoted recently making sexist comments about her face, so it will be interesting to see whether Fiorina tries to hit him for that in front of conservative viewers who've often loved Trump's lack of political correctness.


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