In about an hour, NBC will host the latest in a seemingly-endless stream of debates for the four remaining Republican presidential candidates: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul. The event will be the 17th debate of the cycle — the third in the last seven days — and will take place at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Why is the University of South Florida nowhere near south Florida? It’s a long story.

Anyway, the larger circumstances surrounding the race change the expectations for the debate considerably. Whereas Mitt Romney has enjoyed obvious frontrunner status for quite a while, making him the likely target in the last several debates, recent events in South Carolina have weakened the former governor and raised doubts about his candidacy. We can therefore expect him to be far more aggressive towards his main rival, Newt Gingrich, than we’re generally accustomed to.

And who knows, maybe this time Romney will manage to be coherent when he’s asked about his tax returns.

Gingrich, likewise, is now facing increased expectations, as Republicans wait for him to wow them with his combination of fear-anger-victimization combo.

It’s pretty likely I’ll have some thoughts on the debate in the morning. In the meantime, the floor is yours.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.