The Democrats stage their second presidential debate Saturday night, and it is in Iowa at a time when polls and reporting suggest a comfortable lead for front-runner Hillary Clinton.
The caucuses are now less than 12 weeks away, and one big question is whether Bernie Sanders
will sharpen his attacks on the national debate stage, something his advisers clearly would like. Those advisers are getting tougher on Clinton, but that isn't the same as having their candidate land the blows.
So CNN's Jeff Zeleny shared reporting on what at times can appear to be a strategic and tactical disagreement between the Vermont senator and his hired guns.
"This week is a key moment for him to see if he'll step it up because of course the debate on Saturday is a really -- not a last opportunity -- but a key opportunity for Sanders to show that he is going to call her out on some of these issues," said Zeleny.
"He's been kind of hot and cold on distinguishing himself. He does not seem comfortable sort of playing the role of the hard guy here, but she certainly is. "
"We'll see who wins this sort of internal fight. His advisers who want him to be harder, or Bernie Sanders
, who's kind of a nice guy."
2. Sanders and O'Malley aren't the only ones looking to put a dent in Clinton's standing
Republicans assume Clinton will be the nominee, and many GOP strategists worry she might lock up the nomination fairly quickly while the Republican contests drags on for months.
So GOP-aligned super PACs and other groups think it best that they try to inflict some damage on Clinton now, or at least use this early stage of the campaign to test attack lines and ad strategies to see if anything moves the numbers.
Matt Viser of The Boston Globe reports we should look for a mix of anti-Clinton efforts, and to look for some soon.
"With the candidates there is a lot of intra-party squabbling now and the super PACs are coming up out of the woodwork, some well moneyed ones, and starting to take out national ads against Hillary Clinton, targeting her in the early states," said Viser.
"And we'll see two things from this. One: Can they stifle Hillary Clinton's awfully good several weeks? And two: What types of attacks are really going to work and stick against her?"
3. A few candidates are betting on New Hampshire tradition
New rules or old school?
The answer could determine whether some big name Republican candidates survive past the first few contests of 2016.
So far, the GOP nomination race has been very much a national affair: three big nationally televised debates with great ratings, and a national dynamic in the polling that, with a few exceptions, seems to be mirrored in most of the early state polling.
But history is full of examples of long shots or struggling candidates breaking out, and coming back, by going old school with the retail politics approach that is central to New Hampshire's political history.
This cycle, two current big state governors and a former big state governor are counting on tradition over the national buzz.
Ohio's John Kasich
, New Jersey's Chris Christie
and Florida's Jeb Bush
are all in the second or third tier when you look at the polls.
But each promises to scratch back into contention the old fashioned way: town halls, living rooms, and hand-to-hand vote-seeking in the Granite State.
Given their notoriety, Jonathan Martin of The New York Times suggests it is a test of New Hampshire's sway.
"I'm curious to see the surveys coming out of that state in the next week to 10 days," said Martin. "Are they going to start reflecting the investment from the candidates who are running the usual way?"
"John Kasich last week told me he thinks these debates amount to 'American Idol.' Chris Christie told me that they're offering 'sugar highs' for candidates. "
"Their wager is the debates matter, but the old ways of New Hampshire matter more. It's going to be perhaps the most revealing part of this primary, not just who comes out of New Hampshire, but do the old ways of New Hampshire still count?"
4. Speaking of history, this cycle's Bush remembers past NH family challenges
As Bush places his New Hampshire bet, history might give him at least a little pause.
President George H.W. Bush won the 1992 GOP primary as he ran for re-election, but conservative insurgent Pat Buchanan won a surprisingly strong 37% that exposed conservative anger over, among other things, the incumbent's decision to break his signature 1988 "no new taxes" pledge.
Then George W. Bush came riding high out of Iowa in 2000, only to be stunned by John McCain's New Hampshire insurgency.
The then-Texas governor recovered in South Carolina and went on to win the nomination and the presidency. But the New Hampshire defeat stung.
Now, Jeb Bush says he is modeling his 2016 comeback plan on the efforts McCain staged in New Hampshire in 2000 and 2008.
Among those not ready to write Bush off are top New Hampshire strategists for some rival campaigns. They concede Bush has a decent organization in the state, and say his visit last week amid gloomy national headlines went over pretty well.
Plus, they note the state's history of tossing teetering candidates a lifeline. So, while a healthy dose of skepticism is warranted, don't count out Bush just yet.
5. Raise money, ask a question -- Twitter expands its 2016 role
Twitter has a high profile in the 2016 cycle -- and it isn't just the prolific use of the social media platform by Donald Trump.
Candidates can now fund-raise on Twitter, and Jackie Kucinich of The Daily Beast told us about three quarters of the 2016 contenders are doing so.
And there is a role in the critical debates, too.
"Next week at the Democratic debate, they're going to be taking questions from Twitter users, much like you've seen with Facebook," said Kucinich. "So that'll be interesting to see what the Twitter users want to know from the candidates."