Last night, 14 Republicans running for president joined a forum in Manchester, NH, with two major differences from the upcoming official debate on Fox News on Thursday: no requirement to be in the pollsters' top 10, and no Donald Trump. Instead of debating each other, the candidates took two turns speaking over two hours, and delivered what the New York Times calls "strikingly uneven performances" in which they focused their attacks on President Obama and Hillary Clinton instead of their fellow Republicans. Trump said he didn't have time to attend the event, though Politico reports that he offered to attend if the Union Leader, which sponsored the "Voters First Forum," gave him its endorsement. Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul took part via telecast, having stayed in Washington for the Planned Parenthood vote. Mike Huckabee and Jim Gilmore, the 17th candidate, were absent. Some highlights from the forum:
- Carly Fiorina insisted she was the Republican best able to take on Clinton, saying the party needs a nominee "who is going to throw every punch."
- In what Politico sees as a sign of desperation from the candidate at the bottom of the polls, Sen. Lindsey Graham brought up the Lewinsky scandal. "I'm fluent in Clinton-speak," he said. "When Bill says I didn't have sex with that woman—he did."
- Rick Perry got plenty of laughs when he was asked what federal agencies he would cut, which the Times notes is the same question that probably doomed his 2012 campaign. "I've heard this question before," Perry quipped.
- Cruz turned in one of the better performances and was his usual "firebrand self," according to the Hill. If the Iran "deal goes through, the Obama administration will become the leading global financier of radical Islamic terrorism," he said.
- Chris Christie, who may not make the final cut on Thursday, said, "Jack, you saying I'm washed up?" when moderator Jack Heath asked the NJ governor if he would have had a better chance in 2012, per the Times.
(Read more Election 2016