From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
ST. PETERSBURG, FL -- First Read is on the ground here in this 80-degree, February 5th state, where the CNN/YouTube GOP debate will take place tonight at 8:00 pm ET. Look for our liveblogging throughout the night.
There has been a lot that's gone on since the last Republican debate. Rudy-Romney has picked up, Thompson has seen his poll numbers in the early states decline, and Huckabee has seen his rise. Giuliani and Romney have been going after each other on everything from immigration and taxes to crime and health care. Thompson, meanwhile, has hit Giuliani on guns, and Huckabee's record is starting to be examined more closely now that he shows second place in Iowa polling -- and even one Florida poll out this week.
With all that and the GOP race so fluid, tonight's debate is set up to be a pivotal one. Expect the attacks to come and go in all directions, as each candidate vies for the spotlight. Rudy and Romney will likely take some pointed shots at one another.
Will Romney bring up Bernie Kerik? Will Rudy bring up Daniel Tavares and that Romney-appointed judge in Massachusetts? Will Romney attack others, especially Huckabee? He's mentioned him on the trail, but ignored him in a new Iowa mailer showing the "leading candidates." Will Thompson, who is vying for the same constituency as Huckabee, go after him on taxes and immigration -- perhaps even calling him a pro-life liberal again? Another question: Will Huckabee go after anyone? Can he continue with the Mr. Nice Guy front? And that leaves McCain: Will he try to trumpet perceived stability in Iraq having just returned from a Thanksgiving trip there? Will there be another Woodstock line?
And what about the others? Paul has raised a ton of cash since the last debate. Will he be booed again for his foreign policy views like at the FOX debate? Might McCain use him to highlight his own toughness or resoluteness with regard to Iraq? Stay tuned.