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TONIGHT: GUNS BLAZING!

TONIGHT: GUNS BLAZING!

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the first Republican presidential debate, most candidates took a hands-off approach to Donald Trump and hoped the brash billionaire would hurt himself.

Instead, he only got stronger.

Trump's unexpected durability has led some of his rivals to shift their strategy for Wednesday's second showdown. Now their goal is to engage Trump, without inflicting any damage on their own campaigns.

The change reflects an evolution in the way Trump is viewed within the Republican Party. No longer dismissed as a summer fling for frustrated voters, Republicans increasingly see Trump as a candidate who could remain atop the field for months and win some early states.

"He's in complete, total control of the political battle space," said Steve Schmidt, a top strategist for Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign.

Trump will be standing at center stage when the 11 candidates face off at the CNN-sponsored debate at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. The lineup is the same as last month's opening debate, with one notable addition: former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the GOP field.

It's believed to be the largest debate field in modern political history, underscoring just how jumbled the fight for the Republican nomination remains with five months to go before the Iowa caucuses.

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