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High Stakes, Calm Atmosphere Ahead of GOP Debate

Carson, Trump Take Center Stage at GOP Debate in Milwaukee 2:13

MILWAUKEE, Wisc. — The fourth GOP primary debate will feature fewer candidates than the first three, but likely just as many — if not more — fireworks.

Fewer candidates means more time to speak — and more opportunity to screw up, as the moderators have telegraphed plans to drill candidates on policy specifics and hold them tightly to time constraints.

And with just over 80 days to go until the first primary contest, in Iowa, candidates will be jockeying for that last burst of momentum heading into the winter campaign season where voters start to tune in, and more candidates will likely drop out.

Related: Would a Wonky Debate Help Establishment Candidates?

But at the Milwaukee Theater, where the debate is set to take place, the atmosphere was was largely the calm before the storm. On the chilly but bright day, few reporters were seen outside doing live reports. It was similarly quiet in the sleepy press file, with a few dozen staffers and reporters milling about but most elsewhere.

Three Things to Watch in Tonight's Debate 1:31

Many of the candidates took a similarly relaxed approach to the day. Carly Fiorina's staff said that, as always, the candidate was playing solitaire to focus herself before the debate. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, according to his campaign, went to church with his wife in Milwaukee before heading to the debate site for a walk-through.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich was a bit more active than the rest — his campaign account tweeted a video of the governor shooting hoops with the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday afternoon.

Related: Bush vs. Rubio Sets Stage For Fourth Debate

And some managed to get in some politics. Sen. Rand Paul appeared at a roundtable discussion on school choice at a Christian school in Milwaukee, and said he's hopeful he'll get more time to talk with fewer candidates on stage.

But he also offered one wish for the debate — unattainable, but likely one shared by the rest of the field.

"I'm hoping after this the rest of them will drop out and let me be the nominee," he joked.