CLEVELAND (AP) — Before the first Republican debate of the 2016 campaign for president, there was the undercard: a match-up of seven GOP candidates who didn't have the poll numbers to make the main event.
It was a chance for the four current and former governors, a sitting senator from a crucial early voting state and the GOP's only female candidate to try for the sort of hit-it-out-of-the-park performance that could vault them back into the top-tier of candidates.
Here are some takeaways from the pre-debate debate.
Instead of going after one another, the candidates focused on who wasn't there: Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and, of course, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Trump took shots early from former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. They both questioned his conservative credentials, pointing to his past support for universal health care and abortion rights.
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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal went after Bush by name, rejecting the idea that — as the former Florida governor has suggested — Republicans need to be willing to lose in the primary to win the general election.
As for Clinton, the former secretary of state and Democratic front-runner?
Said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham: "To the people who are dying for a better America, you better change course, and she doesn't represent the change that we need."
FIORINA MAKES HER MARK
Fiorina, the former chief at Hewlett-Packard, could see her poll numbers could rise after her performance.
Less than half-way through the debate, the consensus was clear: Fiorina nailed it.
She wasn't flustered by questions that centered on how she is such a long-shot candidate, and she managed to talk longer than nearly everyone else on the crowded stage. Oh, and she was funny.
Fiorina painted herself as an outsider prepared to take on the status quo and delivered some of the night's most pointed barbs against Trump, Bush and Clinton.
"Hillary Clinton lies about Benghazi. She lies about emails," she declared in her closing statement, adding that, "We need a nominee who is going to throw every punch, not pull punches."
Along with potentially convincing a fair number of viewers that she's the candidate to do it, she also won over one of her on-stage rivals.
"I will tell you one thing," Perry said of the recently concluded talks with Iran over the Islamic nation's nuclear program, "I would a whole lot rather had Carly Fiorina over there doing our negotiation than John Kerry."
NOGAFFES FOR PERRY
Perry entered the forum with more to prove than anyone. He just missed making the main event, denying him the chance to show a prime-time audience how far he has come since his disappointing 2012 campaign.
Perry got the first question on Thursday night and didn't make any gaffes during the hourlong forum. He appeared confident and well-rehearsed, especially on the issue of immigration, and repeatedly talked about his record as governor of Texas — the nation's biggest red state.
REACHING FOR RELEVANCE
For several of the contenders the debate was a chance to stake a claim for relevance in the crowded GOP field.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2012, tried to do it by calling for strict new limits on legal immigration.
None of the others on stage, including New York Gov. George Pataki and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, had the sort of stand-out moment viewers — and voters — are likely to remember.
This report includes material from the Washington Post.