WASHINGTON (AP) — Gladiator season may have arrived in the fight for the Republican nomination.
Three days before the next Republican presidential debate, signs abound that some rivals of billionaire developer Donald Trump are taking direct aim at his decisive lead with attacks on his divisive rhetoric and vague policy.
"There will probably be more elbows thrown at that debate," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
The field would narrow, he added: "There's not enough hard cash to go around to pay campaigns in these states in order to keep 17 candidates alive."
From the campaign to cable television, some of Trump's rivals are testing ways to hobble his bid, since the mogul's own bombast and lack of policy details have not.
"Someone has to bring him down," Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul told The Associated Press last week. "I'm not going to sit quietly by and let the disaster that is Donald Trump become the nominee."
For all of the GOP hopefuls, the CNN debate on Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., is the last chance for several weeks to claim the national spotlight. Pope Francis is poised to eclipse national politics with his tour of the hemisphere, football season begins and Congress faces serious decisions about whether to fund or close the government.
Over the weekend, Trump's rivals campaign-tested their approaches, which seemed aimed at his credibility and his smash-mouth style.
"Mr. Trump says that I can't speak Spanish," Jeb Bush, speaking Spanish, told supporters Saturday in Miami. "Pobrecito (poor guy)."
And Carly Fiorina, whose face Trump ridiculed in a Rolling Stone interview, tried dismissal.
"Donald Trump is an entertainer," she told reporters in Dover, New Hampshire. Leadership is not "about how big your office is, it's not about how big your airplane, your helicopter or your ego is," she added in another appearance.
Trump's campaign, meanwhile, is soaring past uproars that would have sunk other candidates. His national poll numbers have risen to rival leading Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton.
On Friday, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the leading anti-Trump voice among the GOP contenders, became the first candidate to drop his troubled bid for the nomination.
And among Republicans, still-early surveys suggested that the reality TV star has more support than Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio combined. In second place: retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has repeatedly refused to criticize Trump in recent days.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich also declined to take on Trump. During an appearance on "Fox News Sunday" Kasich said he'd rather spend his time introducing himself to voters who aren't familiar with him.
Trump is showing signs that he's aware of the growing target on his back. On the eve of Wednesday's debate, Trump is expected to deliver an address on national security and veterans' issues. In a few weeks, there will be more policy, Trump said, when he releases a plan to reduce taxes.
For now, he's firing back.
"Lightweight Senator @RandPaul should focus on trying to get elected in Kentucky — a great state which is embarrassed by him," Trump tweeted late Saturday. "I truly understood the appeal of Ron Paul, but his son, @RandPaul, didn't get the right gene."
He's casting Carson, meanwhile, as lacking energy and an inadequate advocate for the nation.
"I'm a deal maker. I will make great deals for this country. Ben can't do that," Trump told CBS's "Face the Nation." ''Ben's a doctor, and he's not a dealmaker."
Carson noted on the same show that he's been on the board of international companies like Kellogg and Costco.
Earlier on ABC's "This Week," he said: "You don't have to be loud to be energetic."
Follow Laurie Kellman on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APLaurieKellman.