Throughout the epic saga of this GOP primary's 20 presidential debates, the candidate banter, moderator criticism and memory lapses captured on stage have helped some candidates surge and caused others to kiss their White House dreams good bye.
But while the on-stage drama set the momentum of the campaign, the off-stage cheers and jeers often set the tone for these candidate clash fests.
Whether it was raucous applause, resounding boos or scattered shout-outs, here's a look at some of the most notable moments of audience participation throughout the 2012 Republican primary debate season.
|Contraception As A Campaign Issue|
In the four-week lapse since the last GOP debate, the hot topic of the Republican primary has flipped from the economy and jobs, to contraception and religion. But when CNN debate moderator John King took a question from the network's online audience about birth control, Wednesday night's Arizona debate hall erupted with discontent.
The audience interrupted the question - "Since 'birth control' is the latest hot topic, which candidates believe in birth control and if not, why?" ? with loud and sustained booing.
"It's a very popular question you have," Mitt Romney said sarcastically to King. "These guys are giving you some feedback here John. I think they're making it very clear."
Newt Gingrich then interrupted the booing to criticize both the topic of the question and the "elite media" for asking it.
"You did not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide," Gingrich said, steering the topic toward abortion and away from contraception. "So let's be clear here, if we're going to have a debate about who's the extremist on these issues, it is Barack Obama who, as a state senator, voted to protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion. It is not Republicans."
The GOP candidates have, as a group, been harshly outspoken against the Obama Administration's mandate that contraception be covered co-pay free, even by faith-based hospitals, under the new health care law. The Catholic Church has condemned the rule, citing its belief that birth control is a sin.
|Letting Uninsured Patients Die|
One of the most boisterous moments of the CNN/Tea Party Express debate on September 12 came after moderator Wolf Blitzer posed a hypothetical question to Ron Paul about whether hospitals should treat a 30-year-old man in a coma if he did not have health insurance.
"What he should do is whatever he wants to do and assume responsibility for himself," Paul responded before the crowd's applause cut off his sentence. "That's what freedom is all about, taking your own risk. This whole idea that you have to compare and take care of everybody?" Once the cheers began to subside, Blitzer asked: "Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?"
A vocal minority of audience members then shouted "Yeah!"
"No," Paul said, adding that "our neighbors, our friends, our churches" used to take care of uninsured patients, back when Paul started practicing medicine in the 1960s.
Paul, who often boasts of having delivered more than 4,000 babies, ran a private medical practice specializing in obstetrics and gynecology before he was elected to Congress.
"I practiced at Santa Rosa hospital in San Antonio and the churches took care of them," Paul said, referring to uninsured patients. "We never turned anybody away from the hospital."
|Gay Soldiers Serving Openly In the Military|
The packed crowd at the Fox/Google debate in Orlando, Fla., on Sept. 7, burst into boos when a gay soldier asked the candidates if, as president, they would re-instate the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
"In 2010, when I was deployed to Iraq, I had to lie about who I was, because I'm a gay soldier, and I didn't want to lose my job," said Stephen Hill, via a YouTube video that was projected on a large screen in the debate hall. "My question is, under one of your presidencies, do you intend to circumvent the progress that's been made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military?"
Loud boos echoed throughout the chamber before Rick Santorum could give this response:
"I would say, any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military," Santorum said. "And the fact that they're making a point to include it as a provision within the military, that we are going to recognize a group of people and give them a special privilege to ? to ? and removing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' I think tries to inject social policy into the military. And the military's job is to do one thing, and that is to defend our country."
Congress voted to overturn the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in December 2010, when Democrats still had control of both chambers, but it was not until September 2011 that the military made the policy switch to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly.
At the debate, Santorum said that if he won the White House, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" would be reinstated.
|Rick Perry Using the Death Penalty|
In the 11 years that Texas Governor Rick Perry has been in office, the Lone Star state has executed more than 200 criminals and Perry ? and seemingly the audience at September's California GOP debate - is proud of it.
When NBC debate moderator Brian Williams mentioned that Perry had presided over the execution of "234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times," the Reagan Library audience burst into applause.
When asked how he felt about the audience applauding the executions, Perry said that Americans are "clearly, in the vast majority of cases, supportive of capital punishment."
"Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?" Williams asked.
"No sir, I've never struggled with that at all," Perry responded. "In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you're involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas."
"And that is you will be executed," Perry concluded to fervent applause.
|Blaming 9/11 on American Defense Policies|
When the candidates met on the debate stage the day after the 10th anniversary of the Sept.11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the topic of terrorism and national security became a hot button issue. While the verbal exchange between Ron Paul and Rick Santorum was heated, the audience's response was nothing short of fiery.
"On your website on 9/11 you had a blog post that basically blamed the United States for 9/11," Santorum said at the CNN/Tea Party Express debate . "You said that it was our actions that brought about the actions of 9/11. Now, Congressman Paul, that is irresponsible."
Paul had posted a column that said America's foreign occupation, aka having military bases around the world, is the "real motivation behind the September 11 attacks and the vast majority of other instances of suicide terrorism."
At the debate Paul shot back at Santorum, "This whole idea that the whole Muslim world is responsible for this and they are attacking us because we are free and prosperous, that is just not true," he said.
His defense was met with resounding boos from the crowd.
"Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida (boo) have been explicit, and they wrote and said (boo), 'We attacked America because you had bases on our holy land in Saudi Arabia, you do not give Palestinians a fair treatment and you have been bombing?,'" Paul said before the audience uproar cut him off.
"I didn't say that," he continued amid the boos. "I'm trying to get you to understand what the movie was behind the bombing. At the same time, we had been bombing and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis for 10 years. Would you be annoyed? If you're not annoyed then there's some problem."