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MATCH PLAY: POWER PAIRINGS FOR TONIGHT’S FOX BUSINESS DEBATE
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The world looks very different since the Republican contenders last shared a debate stage almost a month ago.

The longest-standing alliance in the field has been broken as Donald Trump started attacking Ted Cruz and Cruz responded with several salvoes of his own. Meanwhile, a new accord has emerged between Chris Christie and Jeb Bush with one aim only: Stop Marco Rubio.

But the biggest difference may be this: While there were nine contestants on stage Dec. 15 in Las Vegas, there will be just seven for the first contest of 2016.

Seven is still a lot of people to have a meaningful discussion, but anchors Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo of the Fox Business Network have a big advantage over prior debates, including their own eight-candidate scrum in Milwaukee in November.

With seven candidates, the moderators will have more of a chance to delve deeper and to get to the actual points of difference between the candidates. Left to their own devices, candidates in large debates tend to act like little kids in a soccer game. Somebody kicks the ball, and then everybody chases it. Tonight, expect to hear more focus.

And while this debate promises to be as much about Trump, both indirectly and directly, as the ones before it, some other distinct dynamics will be on display on the stage at the North Charleston Coliseum.

With that, we give you the four power pairings for tonight’s debate.

TRUMP VS. CRUZ
The New York Times is tacking Ted Cruz’s hide to the barn for having failed to properly disclose a loan he and his wife took out against their investments in order to finance Cruz’s long-shot 2012 Senate run. And to make it as bad as possible, the Times plays up that the loan came through his wife Heidi’s employer, Goldman Sachs. Pretty tough for a guy who this week was lamenting Trump’s “New York values.” Trump jumped right on the buggy today, saying in a Bloomberg News interview that he heard it’s “a very big thing” But Trump also offered Cruz the chance to end their fight and return to his position as Trump’s junior partner. Trump, who has been on the attack against Cruz for days told Bloomberg that he appreciated that the Texas senator had generally been “very respectful of my ideas and my whole being.” So presumably if Cruz returns to a posture of respect to Trump’s whole being, he would be allowed back in the executive suite.

But if Cruz wants to win the nomination, he needs to have it out with Trump who, aside from continually invoking Cruz’s Canadian nativity, has questioned Cruz’s judgment, commitment to ending illegal immigration, reliance on donors and alleged flip-flopping on ethanol. Trump would certainly like to avoid a center-stage fight with one of the best-liked figures in their party and the favorite choice of evangelical Christians. He will try to duck this fight. Cruz can’t let him out of the clinch.

RUBIO VS. CHRISTIE
The much-vaunted Chris Christie comeback hasn’t materialized. He remains at about 3 percent nationally and is still lagging in his make-or-break state of New Hampshire. That’s why tonight’s debate may be more important for Christie than anyone else on stage. The GOP mainstream still has its doubts about emerging standard bearer Marco Rubio, as this beatdown from George Will today makes clear. Christie must intensify those doubts, so you can expect him to come charging right at Rubio. 

That puts Rubio right where he has been for most of these debates: taking incoming from all directions. After all, there’s plenty of bad blood between him and Cruz, him and Trump and, of course, him and Bush. Christie will be looking to draw Rubio into single combat, but needs the right issue. Senate attendance seems unlikely for a New Jersey governor who spends most of his time lately outside New Jersey. But something about Washington dysfunction seems a certainty. It won’t be easy, though. Rubio has proven harder to take down than expected and has been the consistently best debater of anyone in the field.

CARSON VS. HIMSELF
Ben Carson
is pretty much back where he began. After a summer surge, Carson has sunk near the single digits from which he rose. People who once were over the moon for the Washington outsider began to question his credentials after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks this fall, and now is back where news coverage comes mostly for weird-sounding statements. Tonight, Carson needs to get out of his own way, and go back to talking about his core values of faith and character that brought him to success in the first place. And as the drumbeat of negative news about his campaign continues, Carson needs something to change the fast-hardening narrative.

JEB VS. KASICH
There’s an interesting conflict between the two men at opposite edges of the stage. Jeb Bush appears to be ‘all in’ for New Hampshire, but he’s got a problem: John Kasich is all inner, and three spots ahead of Bush. Why? Kasich is the credentialist’s Trump – fed up, centrist and full of scorn for the stupidity of the system. Bush’s brother, then Texas Gov. George W. Bush, led Kasich out of the 2000 nominating process by the nose. But this time, Kasich has the upper hand on the Bush dynast. While Bush and Kasich are not likely to fight each other, their efforts to get into the discussion from the periphery will be in direct competition. Kasich has lots of experience by now at lobbing in from afar. Will Bush prove a quick study in his new role as candidate on the edge?

WITH YOUR SECOND CUP OF COFFEE…
In failing health and just shy of his 61st birthday, on this day in 1943 President Franklin Roosevelt became the first commander in chief to fly in an airplane for official business. And Roosevelt didn’t just take a little jaunt, either. It was a 17,000-mile round trip to meet with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for a secret strategy meeting in Casablanca in North Africa. A few years ago, Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine put together a fun look at the first presidential trip, including the menu for FDR’s birthday dinner aloft: caviar, olives, celery, pickles, turkey, dressing, green peas, cake, and champagne.

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POLL CHECK
Real Clear Politics Averages
Republican Nomination
Trump 34.0 percent; Cruz 20.0 percent; Rubio 11.0 percent; Carson 9.5 percent
General Election: Clinton vs. Trump – Clinton +2.0 points
Generic Congressional Vote: Republicans +0.5

POWER PLAY: ‘WHAT IF,’ YOUR HONOR?
Ahead of tonight’s Fox Business debate, Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano breaks down the ‘what ifs’ facing the presidential contenders. What if Sen. Ted Cruz’s Canadian birthplace becomes an issue for the courts? Napolitano says that Congress declared over 200 years ago that any child of a natural-born citizen is also natural-born citizen of the United States. But the Judge says there are more wrinkles to what could be a history-making constitutional challenge.

And the questions of what could happen are not limited to the GOP side of presidential race. Hillary Clinton’s legal situation is proving to be more precarious than most expected as the FBI finds continued breaches in security in the former secretary of state’s emails. What if the Justice Department indicts? Or if the FBI recommends an indictment, but the Justice Department refuses? WATCH HERE.

The Judge’s Ruling:  - Can’t get enough of the Judge’s legal findings? Napolitano goes deeper into the Clinton email scandal laying out possible scenarios for the Democratic frontrunner. Napolitano explains that the Justice Department has prosecuted people for less severe breaches of security conduct, including the Navy sailor espionage case over a selfie showing sonar in the background. Yet, the investigation into Clinton discovered a photo from an American satellite showing a North Korean nuclear facility, and many in her party are confident she will be exonerated. From what has been released of the investigation the Judge concludes, “If the FBI recommends indictment and the attorney general declines to do so, expect Saturday Night Massacre-like leaks of draft indictments, whistleblower revelations and litigation, and FBI resignations, led by the fiercely independent and intellectually honest FBI Director James Comey himself.” Read more here.

BERNIE FIGHTS BACK ON HILLARY’S HEALTH CARE HITS
Time: “With the race for the Democratic nomination tightening in Iowa and New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders is taking heavy flak from Hillary Clinton for his healthcare proposal. His plan is expensive (some $15 trillion) and would likely require middle-class tax hikes, Clinton’s campaign has pointed out. It would erase all the hard-earned successes of the Affordable Care Act, Clinton says, and be at the whim of Republican governors who implement it. Now Sanders has taken to trolling Clinton on Twitter, using Team Clinton’s words against her in defense of his universal healthcare plan. The Sanders campaign posted on Wednesday an old photograph on Sanders’ account of the Vermont senator talking earnestly with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s note to Sanders the bottom of the card says, ‘To Bernie Sanders with thanks for your commitment to real healthcare access for all Americans and best wishes — Hillary Rodham Clinton 1993.”

[USA Today: “Hillary Clinton’s campaign wants Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to pony up the details of his health care plan before Iowa Democrats caucus on Feb. 1. Clinton campaign aides held a call with reporters Wednesday and called on Sanders to tell voters how he would pay for his single-payer health care plan, a key component of his populist campaign message.]

Sanders reaps donation surge from Clinton attacks - WaPo: “The former secretary of state and her team have stepped up their criticism of Sanders on a variety of fronts in recent days as polls have begun to show him edging even with her in Iowa — and, for the first time, looking competitive in a national poll. But the Clinton strategy may be backfiring in some ways. ‘Thanks, Team Clinton,’ Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs said Wednesday afternoon. ‘As of now, we are at about $1.4 million raised since yesterday when the panic attacks by the Clinton campaign began,’ Briggs said. ‘We’ve gotten 47,000 contributions. We’re projecting 60,000 donations. Even for our people-powered campaign, this is pretty darn impressive.’”

‘COME GET SOME GOAT LOVE IN’
WTOP: “An Albemarle County farm is no longer seeking volunteers to snuggle its baby goats after an ‘overwhelming response’ from interested cuddlers. Caromont Farm in Esmont, Virginia, expects 90 baby goats, or kids, will be born by mid-February and asked for volunteers to provide extra hands to cuddle and feed the baby goats. The farmers make goat cheeses, so 24 hours after the kids are born, the farm starts bottle feeding the babies and milking the mothers. The kids have to be bottle fed four times per day. The farm posted a message on its Facebook page Tuesday saying its volunteer scheduled was already full through the needed time period. … Caromont Farms adds that it is hosting a ‘Goatapalooza’ on April 3. During the event, the farm will open its doors from noon until 4 p.m. to anyone ‘who would still like to come get some goat love in.’”

AND NOW A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“The person who will decide the nomination on the Democratic side is the FBI Director [James Comey]. If he decides to do a criminal referral, I think [Hillary Clinton] can collapse. Either it quashed and then there’s a huge scandal, or there is an indictment, in which case Biden steps forward in the office himself, self-sacrificially to the party.” Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace."  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.