Highlights from GOP debate

The last Republican debate before the Iowa Caucuses is over and it's all up to the voters of Iowa now, well at least until New Hampshire votes.

This is the first Republican debate during this election without front-runner Donald Trump. Here's a look at some of the highlights from the Associated Press:

Trump kept his threat not to show up

Donald Trump opened a Thursday rally coinciding with the final GOP debate before Monday's Iowa caucuses by telling supporters he would have preferred to be at the debate, but had no choice but to skip it after promising a boycott.

Angry over an escalating feud with debate host Fox News, Trump bowed out of the debate and held what his team called a "Special Event to Benefit Veterans Organizations" at a packed 775-seat auditorium at nearby Drake University instead.

More details of the Trump event here

Rubio says he will unite party against Clinton

Marco Rubio says he will "unite this party and defeat Hillary Clinton" and makes a reference to the Bible in his closing statement.

He says the Bible "commands us to let our light shine on the world" and says the U.S. has been shining its light on the world for more than 200 years.

He says, however, that light is "dimming after seven years of Barack Obama."

He adds, if elected, "America's light will shine again." Reciting his campaign theme, he says "the 21st century will be a new American century."

Christie reflects on 9/11

Gov. Chris Christie refelcted on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Christie says when the World Trade Center towers collapsed, his wife was only a couple blocks away. It was hours before he heard from her and he was forced to contemplate whether she had died and he was a single parent.

With that in mind, Christie said he has focused on keeping the United States safe, noting "terrorism in this country scares everyone."

Given his experience as a prosecutor and governor, Christie says no president will keep the country safer than he will.

Cruz on Iowa's biggest issue: Ethanol

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is hounded by questions about his opposition to ethanol mandates at almost every stop he makes in Iowa.

And Thursday's Republican presidential debate in Des Moines was no different.

Ethanol made from corn is huge business in Iowa, and pro-ethanol forces have been spending millions against Cruz. Longtime Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican and ethanol supporter, has called for Cruz's defeat.

With Branstad in the audience, Cruz was asked to defend his call to phase out a mandate that all fuel contain a certain percentage of ethanol.

Cruz says his tax plan would remove all mandates and subsidies, including those for ethanol. He says, "Washington shouldn't be picking winners and losers."

But Ben Carson says it would be "unfair to withdraw the rug" and says promises were made to people who are counting on the renewable fuel standard being in place.

Rand Paul : Hillary not responsible for Bill's behavior

Rand Paul defended Democrat Hillary Clinton from those who would blame her for sticking with her husband former President Bill Clinton because of his infidelity and subsequent impeachment.

He says, "I don't think she's responsible for his behavior."

Paul goes on to shame the former president in unsparing detail. He says if any CEO did what Clinton did "with a 21-year-old intern," he would be fired and "shunned in their community."

He says Hillary Clinton "can't be a champion of women's rights" with her husband's legacy hanging around her neck.

Christie on Libya

Chris Christie doesn't directly respond when asked if he would send U.S. troops to Libya to take out the Islamic State, turning the tables to trash Democrat Hillary Clinton.

He says Libya is another example why Clinton "cannot be commander-in-chief" because she failed to answer questions posed in a previous Democratic debate about her responsibility for Benghazi.

Republicans have hammered Clinton for her role in dealing with the 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

Christie says Clinton "refuses to be held accountable for anything that goes wrong."

He says the U.S. must work with allies to defeat Islamic State militants in Libya, but does not say whether he would dispatch U.S. troops.

Rubio and Kasich tangle over Iran deal

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are tangling over the nuclear deal with Iran.

Rubio says he would cancel the deal on his first day in the Oval Office, if elected.

Kasich is pushing for tougher enforcement of the deal, saying the U.S. needs to work with European allies on it. "If they violate it, we do need to move against them," he says.

Paul says abortion should be up to the states

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul says he opposes abortion, but whether to ban it should be left up to states, not the federal government.

Paul said during Thursday's presidential debate that if the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion were overturned, he thinks states should decide what to do. Paul says the more states that make abortion illegal, the better.

Paul says on his campaign website that giving states the right to ban abortion would "save hundreds of thousands of lives."

Paul was asked about abortion during a segment of the debate focused on social issues important to many evangelical Christians who vote in the Iowa caucuses.

Christie dismisses Bridgegate scandal

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is dismissing the scandal that rocked his political ambitions after his 2013 re-election.

He says "Bridgegate," as it became known, will not hurt him because he "knew nothing" of the politically motivated move to slow bridge traffic from New Jersey into New York.

The snarl was a traffic nightmare for thousands and was found to be politically motivated, and carried out by Christie aides.

"I knew nothing," he says, quickly adding that he fired the people responsible. "And that's what you expect from a leader."

He went on to compare his record to Democrat Hillary Clinton, vowing, "She will never get within 10 miles of the White House."

Bush says he's toughest candidate to go after Clinton

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush cast himself as the toughest candidate to take on Hillary Clinton, even as he trails in polls.

"I'm running hard and I believe I'll be the Republican nominee," he says, arguing that his "record of accomplishment" in his home state would help him win over voters.

His longtime political ally turned rival, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, says he's also eager to challenge Clinton.

"Hillary doesn't want to run against me but I can't wait to run against her," he says.

Rubio says Sanders and Clinton not qualified

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says neither leading Democratic candidate has what it takes to be president.

Rubio said during Thursday's Republican presidential debate that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders "is a good candidate for president — of Sweden." Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, is running on a platform of offering a free college tuition and health care for all.

Rubio also says former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not qualified to be president. Rubio says she should be disqualified because she stored classified information on her private email server and says she lied to families of people who killed in the Benghazi attacks.

Clinton says the information has been retroactively classified. She casts the controversy as a Republican-led political effort to discredit her ahead of the election.

Bush, Rubio go at it on immigration

The two Florida Republicans squared off over immigration policy.

Sen. Marco Rubio says he never supported a pathway to citizenship for people in the country illegally. Former Gov. Jeb Bush says Rubio did.

Rubio was challenged to defend his past statements as a candidate for Senate where he opposed "blanket amnesty," but then went on to lead a bipartisan Senate group that would have allowed people to seek citizenship after a series of other requirements.

Bush says that once Rubio was in the Senate, he came to Bush to seek his support for legislation that would allow a pathway to citizenship.

"Then he cut and run because it wasn't popular with conservatives," Bush added.

Accusations of flip-flopping ensued.

Bush supports a process that would allow people in the U.S. to seek legal status, not citizenship. Rubio says that's a change from Bush's 2013 book, "Immigration Wars."

Rubio says Bush "used to support" a path to citizenship.

Bush responds, "So did you, Marco. You shouldn't cut and run."

Kasich on how he'd handle Flint water crisis

Ohio Gov. John Kasich says the key to responding to a crisis like the Flint, Michigan, water contamination is to "be on top of it right away."

Kasich was asked during Thursday's Republican debate how he would have reacted to lead contamination crisis in Flint differently than Gov. Rick Snyder, who is facing heat for failing to do more.

Kasich says, "Every single engine of government has to move when you see a crisis like that."

Kasich says during his tenure as governor he's had to react to emergencies like school shootings and storms and when those occur "you've got to go the extra mile." He says: "People have to be alert. They have to be alert to problems and when you see a problem you must act quickly to get on top of it."

Kasich on U.S. role in the world

Ohio Gov. John Kasich says the United States can't be the policeman of the world.

Instead, Kasich says in Thursday's Republican debate that the U.S. must work with other countries in the Arab world and in Europe to confront Islamic State militants. He says the only solution is to build a coalition similar to the one that came together in the first Gulf War. Kasich says destroying the Islamic State will have to involve both an air war and a ground war.

Kasich says the way to bring together a winning coalition is to convince other countries that terrorism poses an "existential threat" to all of them. Kasich says he believes it can be done because he saw former President Ronald Reagan and others do it.

Fox News says Trump wanted money for charities

Fox News Channel says Donald Trump demanded a $5 million contribution to his charities in order to appear in Thursday night's debate, which the network rejected.

Fox News says Chairman Roger Ailes, in conversations with Trump, "acknowledged his concerns" about a statement the network had made in the days leading up to the debate.

The network and the presidential contender had been feuding since Trump demanded Megyn Kelly be removed as a debate moderator.

Trump was holding a competing event in Iowa.

Cruz and Rubio get testy

Ted Cruz promised to build up the U.S. military with money freed up by tax and regulatory cuts from a throttled American economy.

But he defended votes for budget bills that have cut U.S. military spending.

Marco Rubio regularly makes the argument that Cruz cannot be trusted to destroy the threat of the Islamic State group, which he calls "the most dangerous jihadist group in the history of mankind."

Cruz says he "will apologize to nobody" for his stance versus the Islamic State, and promises to "utterly and completely destroy" the group.

Carson says not having political experience is a good thing

Ben Carson says he's proud to be the only Republican presidential candidate without political experience.

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, says even though he hasn't made political choices, he's made plenty of life-and-death decisions during his career as a doctor.

"I don't think you need to be a politician to tell the truth," he said during Thursday night's Republican debate.

Carson says the key is to take new approaches to solve problems that have left many American terrified.

The Ron Paul effect

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul turned a question about his father into attacks on Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Paul was asked whether it was a mistake not to embrace the politics of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

After saying he loves and respects his father, Paul then pivoted to blast Cruz for not showing up to make a vote in the Senate on auditing the Federal Reserve. Cruz says he missed it in order to make a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, but he looks forward to signing a bill to audit the Fed as president.

Paul also sayid Cruz's position on the collection of bulk phone records will not win him the "liberty vote."

Bush says he's staying in

Jeb Bush is dismissing the notion that his struggling campaign should quit, saying it's just getting started.

And he poked fun at Donald Trump for not being on the debate stage in Des Moines.

The former Florida governor had begun in recent weeks to attack the billionaire as a faux conservative, while Trump takes pleasure in poking at Bush as "low-energy" while campaigning.

Bush says Trump is "a little teddy bear" and mocks his rivals for seeking the "witness protection program" instead of attacking Trump also.

Having called himself his own man for months, Bush is now agreeing that he is part of the Republican establishment.

He says the election is not about his pedigree, but "about people who are really hurting."

Candidates in early debate go after Clinton, Obama

The last two winners of the Iowa Caucuses - Rick Santorum (2012) and Mike Huckabee (2008) joined Carly Fiorina and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore in the early debate Thursday night.

Rather than attacking each other or some of the other Republican candidates, they spent most of the time attacking Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They also went after the media, including Fox News.

You can watch the first part of the debate here:

Here's a look at some non debate news:

VP Biden: Democrats have 'gift from the Lord' in Trump and Cruz

Vice President Joe Biden says Democrats may have "been given a gift from the Lord" in the form of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Biden is riffing on the 2016 race as he addresses House Democrats at their annual retreat in Baltimore. Biden says between Cruz and Trump, "I don't know who to root for more."

Many Democrats are hoping that if Republicans nominate an unconventional candidate like Cruz or Trump, Democrats will have an easier time defeating their nominee in the general election.

Biden says he's confident Democrats can win back the Senate in 2016. He says his party can make "great inroads" in winning back House seats and potentially even capture the majority "when nobody expects it."

Biden opted against running for president in 2016

Iowa fast-food workers protest debate

Iowa fast-food workers calling for $15-an-hour wages say they'll stage a day of demonstrations ahead of the Republican presidential debate.

Workers from restaurants including McDonald's walked off the job for the day Thursday.

Activists say the daylong series of protests will culminate with a march to the Iowa Events Center and rally at the debate site, where they hope to draw at least 1,000 low-wage workers.

New $1M ad buy going after Trump

A new $1 million political advertisement says that Donald Trump can't be trusted, even on his signature issue of getting tough on illegal immigrants.

The ad seeks to undermine the frequent Republican presidential poll leader's tough talk about building a wall on the Mexican border.

It includes comments he has made about giving "amnesty" to some who are in the country illegally. And it goes on to assert that his real estate development company relies on illegal immigrants for cheap labor, pointing out a $1 million fine the Trump Organization paid for employing illegal immigrants in the construction of the Trump Tower in New York.

Representatives of Trump's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The commercial, which is set to begin airing Friday in Iowa and also will soon debut in New Hampshire, is sponsored by Our Principles, an anti-Trump super political action committee led by Katie Packer, a former aide to 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.


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