5 highlights from Thursday's GOP debate

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has clearly risen in the polls since the last Republican presidential debate because he was getting it from all sides Thursday night. The story of the night centered on the clash between Donald Trump and Cruz - the leaders in the polls in Iowa which votes in just 17 days. The other five candidates on the stage tried to gain traction.

Here's five highlights from Thursday's debate:

Trump clearly views Cruz as a threat

In the first half-hour of the debate, the issue of Ted Cruz's citizenship came up. Is it an issue people care about? That probably depends on who you ask, but Donald Trump knows that citizenship issues work with his base. His repeated attacks on President Obama's birth certificate several years ago in ways is what got the ball rolling on his presidential campaign.

Moderators asked Cruz, who was born in Canada to a Cuban father and American mom, to respond the suggestions from Trump that he may not be eligible to be president.

Cruz notes that Trump had previously defended him on the issue, but Cruz says Trump is going after him because his poll numbers have changed.

Cruz says that in September, "my friend Donald had had his lawyers look at this from every which way ... and there was nothing to this birther issue."

He notes, "Since September, the Constitution hasn't changed, but the poll numbers have."

In the latest polls out of Iowa, some show Trump ahead of Cruz, others show Cruz ahead of Trump.

Cruz's rise has sandwiched him between Trump and everyone else. Marco Rubio went after Cruz saying his opinions have changed on issues such as immigration and trade.

The Republican calendar could help Cruz. If he wins in Iowa it gives him momentum that could follow him to South Carolina. Then on March 1, a ton of states that could take to Cruz's politics and evangelical support vote on Super Tuesday. Among them Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas.

Governors vs. Senators to be the alternative

Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tried to focus on the fact that they have run a state. Christie in an attack on Rubio basically said all senators do is talk and debate.

"When you're a senator, what you get to do is just talk and talk and talk," Christie said.

At one point when Senators Cruz and Rubio were going at it on taxes, Christie broke in and said, "“I’d like to interrupt this debate on the floor of the Senate."

Jeb Bush even called Rubio and Cruz "two back-bench senators."

Of course, President Obama was a senator from Illinois when he was elected president, so Christie and Bush have another reason for taking on senators.

Kasich, who is in second or third in most New Hampshire polls, took a different tone Thursday. Instead of going after Trump like he did in the last few debates, he didn't go after anyone. Kasich focused on his experience as governor and as a congressman. When the subject of gun violence came up, he even mentioned former Democratic Congressman Nina Turner from Cleveland who is on a task force his office created after fatal police shootings of Tamir Rice and John Crawford III in Beavercreek and Cleveland.

Where was Jeb Bush?

A year ago, most in the media and GOP circles had crowned Jeb Bush as the likely nominee. On Thursday night he barely got any screen time.

Despite his low poll numbers, Trump still goes after him in every debate. Thursday night he even called Bush "weak."

Bush, Ben Carson and John Kasich had the least amount of speaking time Thursday. If Bush hadn't interrupted the moderators he would have had even less.

New York may be liberal, but be careful if you pick on the Empire State

Cruz tried to get one up on Donald Trump going after his "New York values." He said the values of the city are pro-gay marriage and pro-abortion.

Cruz said New York focuses on "money and the media." Cruz went on to say that not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan.

Trump shot back saying Cruz's comments were "insulting" to the city where thousands died on 9/11.

"We rebuilt downtown Manhattan and everybody in the world watched and everybody in the world loved New York and loved New Yorkers. And I have to tell you, that was a very insulting statement that Ted made."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie probably would have shot back at Cruz if Trump hadn't done it so fast. That could have been interesting.

Carson said he wasn't going to be "polite" before debate, but barely registered

At the first presidential debate in August, Ben Carson was standing next to Donald Trump on stage and second in most national polls.

On Thursday it took the moderators more than 15 minutes to get around to asking him a question. He answered by thanking them for waking him up.

Earlier Thursday, his finance chairman quit the campaign. He's lost four top people since Dec. 31. Despite a rough few weeks, he's still in 4th in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, right behind Jeb Bush. In Iowa, where Carson has polled well for months, he's also 4th in the latest Des Moines Register poll. He was in first in October.


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