Houston (US), Feb 26: Presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz head into Republican debate eager to seize one last chance to slow front-runner Donald Trump's momentum before next week's Super Tuesday mega-round of voting.
Senetors Rubio and Cruz so far have shown little willingness to take on the former reality television star when the national spotlight shines brightest. But that may well change last night (local time), in the ninth Republican debate of the presidential campaign.
"The vast and overwhelming majority of Republicans do not want Donald Trump to be our nominee," Rubio told NBC, suggesting Trump is winning only because the other candidates are splitting the Republican voters who don't like him.
Trump's surprising hold on the top spot has remained strong in the raucous contest to pick a Republican candidate in the November election, despite his politically incorrect statements against Hispanics and Muslims, salty language and a self-funded campaign without spending on television advertising.
But Trump may well become the inevitable Republican after the Super Tuesday votes next week in 11 states, with 595 delegates at stake. So far, after four primary and caucus contests, Trump has 82 delegates, Cruz has 17 and Rubio has 16.
A candidate must have 1,237 state delegates to win the Republican nomination at the party's convention this summer.
The New York billionaire predicted the relative civility until now between Rubio and himself won't last. The debate will take place just a few days before 11 states hold Republican elections that could either cement Trump's dominance, or let his rivals slow his march to his party's nomination.
One of the early casualties of the Republican presidential race, Senetor Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, showed no reluctance yesterday to assail Trump head-on, calling him "a nut job" who's likely to win the Republican nomination but lose the general election.
The debate, with CNN and Telemundo as partners, is the only one of the season steered to a Spanish-speaking as well as English-speaking audience, so immigration could be a closely watched issue.
Vice President Joe Biden said during a visit in Mexico yesterday that some of the campaign rhetoric about Mexico has been "dangerous, damaging and incredibly ill-advised." Biden said the Republican candidates "do not represent the view of the vast majority of the American people."