Just four days before the pivotal Iowa caucuses, the Republican presidential candidates – minus their front-runner Donald Trump – faced off in Des Moines, Iowa, in a last attempt to lock up their support and win over any undecided voters.
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Meanwhile, in an unprecedented move, Trump skipped the debate to hold his own event across town.
Here are five ways last night's debate did (and didn’t) change in the race to the White House:
1. The Donald Was There – Even Though He Wasn’t
Ted Cruz opened the debate by insulting his competition as "stupid and ugly," and then joking: “We've gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way.” But Trump’s influence on the night was far from over.
Even though the real estate mogul wasn’t on the debate stage, he was still the most-searched for candidate in the race on Thursday night, according to Google.
Trump held an anti-debate event in Iowa that honored veterans, saying that he would donate millions of dollars to organizations that support them. We’ll find out on Monday whether the risky gamble paid off.
2. Ted Cruz Becomes The New Target
With Trump down the street, the debate stage was clear for other candidates to aim their fire at the next best thing: Cruz.
He tried to frame himself as the front-runner during the debate, complaining about the attacks at one point. "I would note that the last four questions had been please attack Ted, Jeb, please attack Ted," he said.
When Iowans woke up this morning, the Des Moines Register headline read: “Rough night for Ted Cruz.” Cruz is locked in a tight battle with Trump in Iowa, and some top Republicans speculate that a Trump win there could pave his way to the nomination.
3. Could Immigration Be Rubio’s Achilles Heel?
By most accounts, Marco Rubio had a stellar night on the debate stage. His poised and articulate oratorical skills stood out.
But his support for “Gang of 8” immigration reform legislation in the senate has opened up a line of attack from fellow Republicans.
“You know, I like Marco. He's very charming. He's very smooth,” Cruz replied. “But the facts are simple.” And when Rubio accused Jeb Bush of saying he used to support a path to citizenship, Bush pushed back: “So did you, Marco.”
4. New Hampshire Moderate Bloc Splintered - Still
It’s clear that John Kasich, Bush and Chris Christie aren’t playing for a top place finish in Iowa. Instead, their eyes are fixed on New Hampshire, whose primary comes eight days later after the Iowa caucuses.
All three had solid performances during Thursday night’s debate.
But with the three candidates stagnant around 10 percent in most New Hampshire polls, no one has emerged from the pack to threaten Trump, who has led every New Hampshire poll by double-digits since October.
5. Past Iowa Darlings In Trouble
For some candidates, their time in the Iowa sun has already come to an end.
Ben Carson, whose support has plummeted in recent weeks, spoke the least of any of the candidates last night. “Putin is a one-horse country; oil and energy,” he said in response to a foreign policy question.
Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008 and 2012, went from the undercard debate straight to Trump’s event, where they appeared on stage with him and even spoke from behind a Trump podium.