CLEVELAND — All seven of the Republicans in the early debate here were hoping for a breakout moment, and while no one seemed to exactly achieve that Thursday evening, Carly Fiorina may have done the most to put herself on the radar of voters just tuning in.
A sign of her rising profile, dozens of reporters swarmed the former Hewlett-Packard CEO in the spin room after the debate ended at the Quicken Loans arena.
Asked how she’s going to make it onto future primetime contests, Fiorina replied: “I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. Look, everybody here can admit it: when I announced my candidacy on May 4th, you didn’t think we would come this far.”
During Thursday’s forum for the Republican candidates who aren’t in the top 10 of national polls, Fiorina, who has never served in elected office before, was the only woman on stage.
“Hillary Clinton lies about Benghazi, she lies about emails, she is still defending Planned Parenthood, and is still her party’s frontrunner,” she said in her closing statement. “2016 is going to be a fight between conservatism and a Democrat Party that is undermining the very character of this nation. We need a nominee who is going to throw every punch, not pull punches, and someone who cannot stumble before he even gets in the ring.”
During the televised showdown, Fiorina didn’t hesitate to go after Donald Trump and the Clintons.
“I didn’t get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped in the race,” Fiorina said in a swipe at fellow candidate Donald Trump, who it was reported chatted with the former Democratic president recently. “Did any of you get a phone call from Bill Clinton? I didn’t. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t given money to the foundation or donated to his wife’s Senate campaign.”
The fact that Fiorina has never been elected to office did not go unmentioned. When moderator Martha McCallum expressed skepticism about her candidacy, pointing out her low poll numbers, Fiorina said: “I would begin by reminding people that at this point in previous presidential elections, Jimmy Carter couldn’t win, Ronald Reagan couldn’t win, Bill Clinton couldn’t win, and neither could’ve Barack Obama.”
The debate was particularly important for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who aimed to re-bound after famously botching debate performances in 2012. But at one point, even he went out of his way to praise Fiorina while criticizing the administration over the Iran deal.
“I will tell you one thing, I would whole lot rather have Carly Fiorina over there doing our negotiation than John Kerry…Maybe we would have gotten a deal where we didn’t give everything away.”
Perry also argued that he’s ready today, unlike four years ago, to be commander in chief.
“I will assure you” Perry said, “as the governor of the state of Texas, and as those last four years have shown me, the preparation to be ready to stand on this stage and talk about those monetary policies, those domestic policies, and those foreign policies, Americans are going to see that I am ready to be that individual.”
During the forum, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum reminded voters of his victory in the 2012 Iowa caucuses.
“I would say the message that got us the win in Iowa and 10 other states against pretty overwhelming odds, is the message that’s going to deliver us in this election,” Santorum said.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham stressed his national security experience while dismissing the Democratic charges that Republicans are bad for women.
“You want to see a war on women?” Graham said. “Come with me to Iraq and Afghanistan, folks. I’ve been there 35 times. I will show you what they do to women.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal referenced the recent conservative uproar over videos showing Planned Parenthood doctors talking about the selling of fetal parts.
“Planned Parenthood had better hope that Hillary Clinton wins this election, because I guarantee under President Jindal, January 2017, the Department of Justice and the IRS and everybody else that we can send from the federal government will be going in to Planned Parenthood,” he said.
Former New York Gov. George Pataki took the rare position in a Republican debate of articulating a pro-choice argument.
“My heart has not changed,” Pataki said, when asked about his beliefs, “because I’ve always been appalled by abortion. I’m a Catholic, I believe life begins at conception. But as [the moderator] said earlier, Roe v. Wade, it’s has been the law for 42 years, and I don’t think we should continue to try to change it.”
Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, speaking to reporters afterwards, expressed happiness of just being on stage.
“I had a wonderful time up there, because I really had a chance to say what I thought was important,” Gilmore told reporters. “And what I thought we needed to do as a nation. I’m not in this thing to somehow promote Jim Gilmore. I’ve been governor. I’m in this to try to do something with the people of the United States before it’s too late.”