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Five things to watch for in the CBS Republican debate

Last Updated Feb 13, 2016 8:56 PM EST

The six remaining Republican presidential candidates will be on stage in Greenville, South Carolina Saturday night for the CBS News Republican debate.

The stakes are high for the remaining candidates, as they head into a period of the primary season that relies less on retail politicking. A strong debate performance could be crucial as the candidates try to reach the voters who are next in line to cast their ballots -- in South Carolina and Nevada.

Here are five things to watch for:

Donald Trump versus Ted Cruz: Each candidate has a win under his belt, with Cruz claiming victory in the Iowa caucuses and Trump dominating the New Hampshire primaries.As they head into South Carolina, their attacks on each other are heating up. Trump this week accused the Cruz campaign of using "sleazy and dishonest" tactics in the Palmetto State, while the Cruz campaign is using attacks against Trump in its fundraising emails. It remains to be seen whether their nasty and personal attacks will reappear on the debate stage.

"I'm expecting the candidates to have a presidential demeanor on the outside and on the inside, a roiling desire to do battle," CBS News political director and "Face the Nation" host John Dickerson told "CBS Evening News" anchor Scott Pelley. "Usually on a debate stage, the candidates want to look presidential because they don't want to come across as too aggressive. On the other hand, the stakes are very high here in South Carolina."

Can Jeb Bush build on his New Hampshire finish? The former Florida governor has struggled to gain much traction since launching his presidential bid, but after investing a considerable amount of time and money in New Hampshire, he placed fourth there. To keep his campaign alive, he'll have to take the others down a notch.

Will Bush continue his pattern of taking on Trump on the debate stage? Or will he take on his competitors for the title of "establishment" candidate? Watch for Bush to take on Ohio Gov. John Kasich for expanding Medicaid, Cruz on defense issues, and Sen. Marco Rubio on the question of presidential readiness.

Can Rubio rehabilitate his image? In the last Republican debate, Rubio performed poorly -- and it hurt him. After his relatively strong third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, expectations were high for the Florida senator. Yet days before the New Hampshire primary, Rubio let his fellow Republicans knock him off his game. He finished in a disappointing fifth place in New Hampshire.

Saturday night will give the usually eloquent, telegenic senator a chance to redeem himself with debate watchers.

How far right does Kasich move? John Kasich managed to take second place in the New Hampshire primaries after focusing all of his energy on that state -- and catering to its famously independent-minded, moderate voters.

That strategy, however, won't be as effective in deep red states like South Carolina. He'll need a strong debate performance to pull him through to the early-March primaries, when Midwestern states like Michigan will vote.

Is this Ben Carson's last stand? The retired neurosurgeon placed in a disappointing eighth place in New Hampshire, so he'll need a game-changing performance Saturday night if he wants to carry his campaign past South Carolina. "I reassess the future of the campaign every day," Carson said Friday, adding that he expects to do "extraordinarily well" in South Carolina.

"It's a matter of really getting out in front of enough audiences, so that they get a chance to see me and hear me as opposed to the way they have been characterized by many in the media."

 

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.