HOUSTON (KTRK) --This is a Texas-sized day in the race for the 2016 GOP nomination.
All five remaining, competitive candidates are participating tonight in a critical pre-Super Tuesday debate at the University of Houston.
Donald Trump is center stage, flanked by Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. On the outside are Governor John Kasich and Dr. Ben Carson.
Texas, the site of the last debate before the 12 state primary election day on March 1, is the largest prize. It offers 155 delegates, the most of any state so far in this election season.
It is also critical to the future success of Senator Cruz, who has finished third in three straight contests after winning the Iowa Caucuses nearly a month ago. Cruz, who has long said Super Tuesday, with many of its states in the south, is the single most important day of his campaign.
But Donald Trump, winner of three straight contests, stands in his way. Trump, the New York billionaire, has caught on with some of the same voting demographics Cruz has diligently courted. And unless Cruz's appeals to vote for a "consistent conservative" are met with enthusiasm, Trump threatens run away with the delegate race.
Marco Rubio, the first term Florida senator, seems to be gaining ground on both Trump and Cruz, given the suspension of Jeb Bush's presidential campaign. Bush withdrew from his effort after a poor showing in South Carolina. His absence seems to have helped Rubio, who has yet to win any contests.
John Kasich, the Ohio Governor, has underperformed in three of the four contests, but did get a boost from a second place finish in New Hampshire. He is the lone remaining Governor or former Governor in the race.
Ben Carson, whose national popularity led a group of supporters to "draft" him to run for president, has not scored out of the single digits in any of the early contests. But he has refused to quit, saying he owes his supporters and donors a full effort.
Big buzz on campus
It's a huge night for the city of Houston, and especially out at U of H. People on campus tell us you can feel the excitement.
The set-up was going on all day yesterday. Security was doing the final checks of the building, and that's our crews couldn't get too close.
Meanwhile, the debate is what everyone's talking about on campus. Rottinghause says it's really gotten students interested in the process and interested in the debate who otherwise may not have been. .
"I think it's great exposure for the university," he said. "They've been trying to make strides both in the state, but also nationally and this is a great opportunity for them to showcase the great things happening at U of H."
The debate will air at 7:30pm on CNN and Telemundo.
Getting to campus
Cullen Blvd. between Elgin St. and Holman St. will be closed to traffic. Motorists with a need to drive onto the UH campus are encouraged to take Scott St. or Spur-5 as an alternate.
Due to the closure of Cullen St. METRO Bus routes servicing the University of Houston will be disrupted. The following information is provided by METRO:
Event detours are in effect until Friday at 2am
- Cullen between Elgin and Holman will be closed.
- Affected routes: 4 Beechnut, 9 Gulfton/Holman, 29 Cullen/Hirsch
Parking lots 16B, 16C, 16D and 16G will be closed from 10 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24, until 3 a.m. Friday, Feb. 26.
The Campus Loop shuttle will stop running at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 24 and will not be available on Thursday, Feb. 25. It will resume its normal schedule on Friday, Feb. 26.
METRO routes that normally utilize the closed portion of Cullen Boulevard will be rerouted. For more details on bus detours, visit www.ridemetro.org/Pages/Detours.aspx.
No bikes will be allowed in the area between Monday, Feb. 22, and Friday, Feb. 26. Signage has already been placed at affected bike racks, trees and other objects in the area.