The Portland Expo was once a boxing venue, so it’s an apt setting for the Republican gubernatorial debate tonight at 7.

Unlike their Democratic counterparts last week, the Republicans vying for the state’s highest office should be expected to mix it up.

For one thing, there are seven of them, and they all need to create some distance if voters are going to be able to tell them apart.

For another, they have already started sparring. From Bruce Poliquin’s direct attacks on Les Otten for claiming credit for words he did not write, to Peter Mills’ set-to with Paul LePage over who deserves credit for lowering taxes in Waterville, the candidates have already shown they are not shy about demonstrating where they differ.

The Great Debate is a joint project of MaineToday Media, the parent company of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal, Waterville Sential and all their associated websites with WGME-TV 13.

The hour-long affair will put all seven contenders, who also include Steve Abbott, Bill Beardsley and Matt Jacobson, on stage before a hall filled with party members attending their biennial conventions.

Voters can watch the debate in person, or see the live TV broadcast, or view it later at their convenience on our websites.

With just over a month to go before the primary, voters should be fully engaged and getting all the information they need to make up their minds. In what is widely considered to be a Republican year, this contest should draw very close attention.

We all know that they all have plans to reform taxes, education and state energy policy. Now it’s time for them to show us how they are different.

It will be an interesting evening if they do.