Billionaire real estate titan Donald Trump will be at center stage Wednesday during the second U.S. Republican presidential debate, with 10 opponents trying to cut into his lead for the party's 2016 nomination.
"I'll be attacked," the flamboyant Trump said this week, as he relished his front-runner standing.
One of his opponents, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, is calling Trump a "fake conservative" in advance of the debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Los Angeles. Other contenders say Trump's views are - or were in years past - more aligned with liberal Democratic positions and out of the mainstream for the dominant conservative Republican base of voters.
Trump's anti-Washington rhetoric, along with demands to expel 11 million illegal immigrants from the United States and taunts at his opponents have propelled him to the top in surveys of Republican voters. A CBS/New York Times poll this week showed him with 27 percent support, just ahead of the 23 percent figure for another political novice, former neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
None of the other contenders on the stage with Trump and Carson registered double digit support in the poll. One of the early Republican establishment favorites in the race, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, the son and brother of two U.S. presidents, had just 6 percent support, the same as that for two other contenders, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
Fiery debate expected
Despite being held at the library honoring the nation's 40th president, the expected verbal fireworks among the Republican contenders will likely put to the test Ronald Reagan's long-held political ethos - "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican."
The others set to debate include Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Ohio Governor John Kasich and former technology company executive Carly Fiorina.
The soft-spoken Carson has steadily risen in voter opinion polls over the last month, while Fiorina, the only woman in the Republican race, has seen her stature rise on the strength of her performance in a debate among other lower-ranked candidates last month. She has also been the target of Trump, who openly insulted her looks in a recent magazine interview.
Four lower-ranked candidates - Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and former New York governor George Pataki - will take part in a separate debate Wednesday before the main event.
The first voting in the long journey to picking presidential nominees in the U.S. is not scheduled until February 1, at caucuses in the rural state of Iowa.