The final hours: How GOP candidates are gearing up for the first debate

Playing solitaire, going to mass, and visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are just a few pre-game relaxation strategies used by top Republican candidates. 

Andrew Harnik/AP
Workers make final preparations at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, for the first Republican presidential debate.

It’s natural that in the hours leading up to an event as potentially life-changing as the first Republican debate, presidential contenders would do everything they could to achieve some form of peaceful relaxation. But Mike Huckabee is focused on reaching a different kind of Nirvana: the 1990s grunge band. 

The former Arkansas governor says he plans to spend Thursday afternoon at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Later that evening, he’ll duke it out with the nine other top GOP candidates at Quicken Loans Arena in the same city.

“I'm going to keep my mind free and loose,” Huckabee told Fox News.

He isn’t the only one who’s putting down the rehearsal notes and clearing his mind before the highly anticipated debate, which begins at 9 p.m. EDT. 

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker spent the morning at the Wisconsin State Fair opening ceremonies before jetting off to Ohio. 

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush kicked off debate day by attending mass with his wife, followed by an afternoon of working out at the gym and “vigorous emailing.” 

And like many of his fellow candidates, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is spending the day with his family. 

Others are taking advantage of the debate hype to do some extra campaigning. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul could be found talking with interviewers, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reportedly stopped by a state GOP fundraiser in between spending time with his family and holding a team dinner. 

Most of these candidates have spent long, grueling hours preparing for their first convergence on the national stage over the course of the past few months. Many will bring notes, just in case; others, like real estate mogul Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, will not. 

When asked by reporters if he was nervous about the debate, Dr. Carson replied jokingly, “Not at all, it’s not brain surgery.”

According to one of Mr. Trump's senior advisors, the billionaire didn’t even rehearse for the occasion. 

“I have no idea what to expect,” the advisor told ABC News. “I’m just as clueless as you about what he’ll do.”

His lack of preparation stems from a desire not to be “unreal,” Trump said last week in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press."

"I want to be me. I have to be me," Trump said. “We have enough of that in Washington with pollsters telling everybody what to say.” 

For Republican contenders who didn’t make the top 10, a secondary debate will air at 5 p.m. EDT. 

In last-minute preparation for the earlier debate, former HP executive Carly Fiorina reportedly planned to clear her mind by playing solitaire on her iPhone. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum also planned a low-key afternoon, and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore will spend any free time on Thursday celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife Roxanne.

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