WATCH: Scalia's Death To Refocus Tonight's GOP Presidential Debate, Campaign

Construction crews work on the stage before the CBS News Republican presidential debate at the Peace Center in Greenville, S.C. (AP)
Construction crews work on the stage before the CBS News Republican presidential debate at the Peace Center in Greenville, S.C. (AP)

The final GOP debate before the South Carolina primary already promised fireworks. But the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday afternoon and subsequent opening on the bench will likely spur a new dialogue — forcing candidates to address how and if the vacancy should be filled before the presidential election and what type of justices they would appoint as president.

GOP congressional leaders were quick to say that any nomination to fill Scalia's position should happen under a new president, putting them at odds with Democrats and the White House. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has already said that the vacancy should be filled by the next president.

Just six Republicans will take the stage at the CBS News at the Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville, S.C. Only real-estate mogul Donald Trump, Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Ohio Gov. John Kasich remain in the race after results from Iowa and New Hampshire significantly winnowed the field.

Cruz and Trump have been throwing escalating barbs at each other in recent days, with the reality TV star tweeting just before the debate that Cruz was a "cheater" who was spreading lies about him. Trump remains the heavy leader in Palmetto State polling.

South Carolina debates have been pivotal in the past — in 2012, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had a commanding performance where he defended accusations about his personal life that helped propel him to win the primary.

While the state's GOP electorate is heavily evangelical, much like in Iowa where Cruz won, it also contains a significant amount of moderate and more establishment voters. It's there in the Lowcountry where someone like Bush or Kasich could have an appeal, while Cruz needs to do well in the conservative Upstate, where the debate is being held.

Rubio, too, needs to have a particularly strong debate coming off a disastrous performance last Saturday in New Hampshire's GOP face-off where he was drilled for repeating rehearsed lines from his stump speech.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.