Washington: America`s Republican presidential hopefuls were finalising their battle plans Tuesday for Wednesday`s hotly-anticipated debate, with all eyes on soaring anti-establishment frontrunner Donald Trump and the rivals wishing to bring him down to Earth.
Eleven candidates will crowd onto the stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, a far more intimate and symbolic setting than the first debate, in August.
While Trump will aim to preserve his substantial lead in the polls, his many rivals will be under tremendous pressure to deliver a breakout performance that sends them into top-contender status and helps separate them from the large pack of candidates.
Trump shrugged at the prospect of entering a lion`s den with opponents eager to take swipes at the man they say is not a true conservative.
"We`re doing something special," Trump told a crowd Tuesday night from the deck of a World War II-era battleship, the USS Iowa, in Los Angeles. "This is a movement."The key question is whether there will be fireworks between Trump, who has exceeded his brash reputation and leveled verbal assaults at many challengers, and those seeking to rein in the controversial real estate mogul.
Jeb Bush, perhaps the campaign`s ultimate establishment Republican, has seen his political fortunes tumble in the months since Trump entered the race.
In an effort to raise his campaign`s profile, a pro-Bush "super PAC" group that has raised huge funds launched a series of ads -- reportedly a $24 million buy in early-voting states Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina -- that tout the former Florida governor`s conservative credentials.
It remained unclear whether Bush will come out swinging against Trump when candidates take the stage.
But rivals such as Senator Rand Paul, who leveled tough accusations against Trump in the first debate, only to see his poll numbers sink in the intervening month, insisted the gloves will come off Wednesday night.
"I think I was a little easy on him, so I think he deserves every bit he gets," Paul told CNN, which is hosting the event.
"I will make sure that everybody in this country knows that he is a fake conservative."
The hot-tempered attacks may come despite the debate`s location, one that honors Reagan, seen by many Republicans as the quintessential modern-day conservative president.
As candidates seek to carry the Reagan torch, violation of his so-called 11th commandment -- "thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican" -- is likely to go by the wayside.As more conventional candidates like Ohio Governor John Kasich and Senator Marco Rubio struggle to gain air time with the US media spending vast time and resources on covering Trump, another outsider, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, is quietly gaining ground on Trump.
The latest CBS News poll found Trump still ahead, at 27 percent support, but the soft-spoken Carson, whose style is essentially the anti-Trump, swelled to 23 percent, though within the poll`s margin of error.
While it is unclear whether Carson poses an immediate threat to Trump`s dominance, the rise of the doctor, who like Trump has never held public office, is more evidence of an anti-establishment wave washing over the 2016 nomination race.
Another outsider, former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, has also risen in the ranks, being the only candidate to jump from the previous undercard event to Wednesday`s main debate.
Fiorina, the only woman in the Republican field, will be watched closely to see whether she launches broadsides against Trump, who recently made disparaging comments about Fiorina`s looks.