BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Here’s a look at how the 10 Republican presidential candidates in the main-event debate at the University of Colorado-Boulder performed Wednesday night.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was in the spotlight more than in the first two debates, having risen to the top of polls nationally and in first-voting Iowa. But the soft-spoken candidate seemed unshaken by the heightened attention, even when quizzed on his proposal to eliminate all tax deductions and loopholes. Carson awkwardly answered a question on his biggest weakness: “A weakness would be not really seeing myself in that position” — the presidency he’s running for — “until hundreds of thousands of people began to tell me that I needed to do it.”
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The celebrity billionaire, who has slipped in early-state and national polls, played a smaller role than the previous two debates. He was asked fewer questions and inserted himself into others. His contributions were often more entertaining for the audience than his rivals, such as when he said he carries a gun “on occasion, sometimes a lot. But I like to be unpredictable so that people don’t know exactly.”
The Florida senator was a central figure in the evening’s most dramatic moment, when fellow Floridian Jeb Bush criticized his work ethic for missing Senate votes. But Rubio was prepared, noting that Bush never questioned 2008 GOP nominee John McCain’s voting record when he was running for president. To Bush, Rubio said, “The only reason why you’re doing it now is because we’re running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.”
The former Florida governor Bush, who is competing with Rubio for the Republican establishment’s support, pointedly questioned Rubio’s Senate attendance record, saying, “Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work.” But Bush had little response when Rubio retorted with McCain’s voting record, simply saying, “He wasn’t my senator.” The audience cheered for Rubio, not Bush.
The tea party-backed Texas senator set the tone for a string of media criticism by the candidates, ticking through what he viewed as irrelevant questions, albeit by exaggerating them somewhat. “This is not a cage match. And, you look at the questions — Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math?” Cruz said. “How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?” The audience responded with huge applause before other candidates followed suit.
The former tech company CEO cast a smaller shadow on stage in Boulder than she did at the second debate, which was her first participating with the top candidates. She did stand out in suggesting the government should play no role in providing retirement account assistance. “Every time the federal government gets engaged in something it gets worse,” she said.
The former Arkansas governor stuck to his gift for pithy, values-centered rhetoric. He declined to criticize Trump’s moral authority to lead the country, joking: “You know, of the few questions I’ve got, the last one I need is to give him some more time. I love Donald Trump. He is a good man.”
The former New Jersey governor spoke directly into the camera, at one point addressing “the guy, you know, who owns a landscaping business out there.” He also took a shot at the moderators for asking about fantasy football regulation when “we have $19 trillion in debt. And we’re talking about fantasy football?” he groused. “Can we stop?”
The Ohio governor, fighting to gain traction as a moderate, charged out of the gate with a screed aimed at some of his rivals. “I’ve watched to see people say that we should dismantle Medicare and Medicaid and leave the senior citizens out in the cold,” Kasich said. “We need someone who can lead.”
The Kentucky senator was a scant presence on the stage in Boulder. He advertised his plan to filibuster the budget bill passed in the House: “I will spend every ounce of energy to stop it. And I ask everyone in America to call Congress tomorrow and say enough is enough: No more debt.”