Republican presidential candidate George Pataki lobbed criticism at GOP candidate...

Republican presidential candidate George Pataki lobbed criticism at GOP candidate Donald Trump through Twitter on Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. Above, Pataki is interviewed on Aug. 5, 2015, in Cleveland. Credit: Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

CLEVELAND -- A crowded field of 17 Republican presidential hopefuls began arriving here Wednesday on the eve of their first televised debate, with the list of questions nearly as long as the roll call of candidates.

Even before the moderators begin, analysts and Republican insiders said questions abound.

Will front-runner Donald Trump, known for brashness and working without a script, go off or surprise everyone with his reserve? Will opponents try to dent his lead by attacking him? What can anyone in a crowded stage do to break through? Will setting the debate in Ohio -- always a key swing state -- moderate candidates' tactics? And why is the debate broken into two sessions?

Critiques of the event already are underway -- by some of the candidates themselves.

"I think it's wrong that TV decides who is a credible candidate," said former New York Gov. George Pataki, one of the hopefuls, referring to Fox News' decision to feature 10 candidates in prime time Thursday and relegate the seven others, including Pataki, to a separate, 5 p.m. debate.

"It's all about name recognition at this point and if you're the host of a reality TV show or the relative of a president, your name recognition is going to be up there," Pataki said, after participating in one of the "pre-events" Wednesday, a candidates forum on SiriusXM satellite radio.

Using a combination of polls, Fox News determined the prime-time debate will include Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

The earlier debate includes Pataki, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

"It's bad public polling," said Lee Miringoff, Marist College pollster. "Polls are supposed to measure public opinion. Now, you have a media-sponsored poll determining who gets in."

Shoehorning it into television time constraints will make it hard for any of the candidates to stand out -- unless they say or do something somewhat brazen, he said.

"It will be interesting to see if it becomes 'Donald Trump and Company,' " Miringoff said.

Ohio itself could have an impact on the proceedings, said John Green, a University of Akron political scientist.

"Of all the big states, it's about the closest to being a microcosm to the whole," Green said. He said the economy and continuing recovery from the 2008 recession are big topics here. Immigration, not so much.

Style too could prove important, he said. "Midwesterners like an expressive style," Green said. "In that regard, Gov. Kasich is a little bit of exception. He is unscripted . . . But Trump? Christie? Those candidates might not resonate as much with Ohio voters. Those harder-edged styles don't play as well."

Pataki and some of the others began Wednesday by participating in the radio forum. Pitched as showing candidates' personal side, host David Webb asked each about his or her childhood, family traditions, families and favorite music. "I'm not a fan of his politics, but I love Springsteen," Pataki said.

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