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Brawling Republicans to gather tonight in South Carolina for town hall

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(CNN) — In the middle of what is turning into a vicious and personally charged Republican presidential primary, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson will confront questions from voters Wednesday night at CNN’s South Carolina town hall.

The prime-time event in Greenville will offer each of the candidates an opportunity to make a personal case to the voters of this Southern state just three days before voting begins. Unlike in the debates, the White House contenders will each take the stage separately and field questions from audience members as well as moderator Anderson Cooper.

A second CNN town hall Thursday night will feature the remaining three GOP candidates: Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and John Kasich.

Though Cruz and Rubio won’t be sharing the stage Wednesday, there’s a good chance for fireworks.

Rubio slammed Cruz earlier in the day for “disturbing” behavior on the campaign trail, saying that his Senate colleague has mischaracterized his record.

Cruz hit back during a press conference where he derided Rubio as “behaving like Donald Trump with a smile.”

The two men clashed bitterly over immigration at the last South Carolina Republican debate on Saturday. Cruz accused Rubio, a Florida senator, of joining with Senate Democrats on an “amnesty plan,” spurring Rubio to denounce the Texas senator for spreading “lies.”

Both Cruz and Rubio are hoping for a strong showing in the Palmetto State, where Trump continues to hold a sizable lead. A new CNN/ORC poll out Tuesday showed Trump on top at 38%, followed by Cruz at 22%, Rubio at 14% and Bush at 10%.

The hope is that a solid outcome in South Carolina could give a burst of momentum as the candidates head into a dozen primary contests on March 1, also known as the “SEC primary.”

Wednesday’s town hall could prove to be a revealing moment for Carson.

The ex-neurosurgeon has struggled to regain his footing after briefly surging in the polls months ago. The political newcomer has particularly stumbled over national security and foreign policy questions — critical issues in a state that has a large military and veterans community.

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