DES MOINES, Iowa (Jan. 28, 2016) – Four days before the Iowa Caucuses, seven of the eight to GOP presidential candidates took center stage inside the Iowa Events Center.
“Let’s address the elephant not in the room tonight,” Megyn Kelly said at the start of the debate, a debate moderator and FOX News host. “Donald Trump has chosen not to attend.”
Trump was just several miles away, hosting his own rival rally at Drake University, after claims FOX and Kelly have treated him unfairly.
“Gosh if you guys ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage,” Sen. Ted Cruz said at one point, whose lead in Iowa has diminished in recent days.
Cruz and the other candidates wasted no time going after Trump, the moderators, President Obama, Hillary Clinton and each other.
“You claim it is tough talk to discuss carpet bombing,” Cruz said. “It is not tough talk. It is a different fundamental military strategy than what we’ve seen from Barack Obama.”
The GOP candidates focused heavily on threats from Islamic extremists.
“ISIS is the most dangerous jihadist group in the history of mankind,” Sen. Marco Rubio said. “ISIS is now found in affiliates in more than a dozen countries. ISIS is a group that burns people alive in cages.”
While they sometimes turned the tables on each other on issues like immigration, Clinton received renewed focus.
“She put American intelligence officers at risk for her convenience,” Gov. Chris Christie said. “She put American strategy at risk for her convenience. Let me tell you who’s not qualified to be president: Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
Earlier in the night, the lowest-polling candidates participated in the first debate.
After both Sen. Rick Santorum and Gov. Mike Huckabee talked with CBS4, both previous winners of the Iowa Caucuses, who are frustrated a bit by the attention Trump is receiving.
“Right now people are very fascinated by someone else in this race and is drawing all this attention, and I feel like I’m running a marathon breathing through a swizzle stick,” Santorum said. “And that’s a tough thing to do, but we’re still here.”
Huckabee acknowledged Iowa will play a big role the future of his campaign.
“I think Iowa voters typically break late,” he said. “I still believe we’re going to see a very big surprise come Monday night in the caucuses when these people actually go vote.”