GREENVILLE, South Carolina -- Six Republican presidential candidates will face off on the debate stage Saturday night, exactly one week before South Carolina voters head to the polls in the first southern primary of the 2016 election season.
In the past few weeks, voting has started and a handful of candidates have left the race, raising the stakes for the remaining contenders hoping to go the distance.
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz will again take the center podiums at the CBS debate, which begins at 9 p.m. ET. They each have a victory under their belts from Iowa and New Hampshire and will be flanked by Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and John Kasich -- three candidates fighting to break out as the leader of the establishment pack. Ben Carson, struggling to regain his footing after briefly topping national polls in the fall, will also have a spot on stage.
The state is home to a large number of military personnel and veterans, meaning national security and military issues are likely to be central to Saturday's debate. And already, South Carolina -- with its reputation for vicious political onslaught -- has spurred plenty of mudslinging and personal attacks between the candidates.
The rivalry between Trump and Cruz has intensified as they prepare to fight for the anti-establishment mantle in South Carolina. Cruz has released multiple TV ads in recent days aimed at Trump's conservative credentials -- particularly zeroing in the issue of eminent domain.
Trump's campaign manager said earlier this week that the billionaire businessman would run a positive campaign. But by Friday, Trump was again on the attack against Cruz, tweeting "If @tedcruz doesn't clean up his act, stop cheating, & doing negative ads, I have standing to sue him for not being a natural born citizen."
With Trump enjoying a sizable lead in the state, both Bush and Rubio are hoping to make up ground here.
For Bush, South Carolina is a state that both his father and brother won. The former Florida governor is looking to capitalize on George W. Bush's popularity in the state by bringing the former president out to campaign with him for the first time Monday. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator who ended his own bid for president in December, will campaign for Bush across the state.
Rubio also has reason hope for a strong showing here. Some of his top campaign aides, including campaign manager Terry Sullivan, are Palmetto State veterans who have been laying the groundwork in the state for months. The Florida senator also earned the endorsement of two prominent members of Congress from this state: Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Trey Gowdy.
The pressure is particularly intense Saturday for Rubio, who was rattled by former rival Chris Christie during a memorable moment at the last debate in New Hampshire.
For Kasich, South Carolina presents more of an uphill battle. The Ohio governor has largely campaigned on a moderate message, and though he is riding high from a second-place finish in New Hampshire this week, appealing to a more conservative base in South Carolina will be a tough task.
Carson's path forward is unclear. He briefly topped national polls and was competitive in Iowa, where he appealed to the state's large evangelical constituency. But after a series of missteps and the loss of top campaign staffers, Carson has not been able to regain momentum.