Debate discovers chaos



Republican presidential candidates, from left, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Rand Paul appear during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Candidates go after the media and moderators in messy Republican presidential debate.

By Brent Griffiths   |   [email protected]

It was billed as “your debate, your money.” The third installment of the Republican presidential debates was supposed to hit the pocketbook issues that voters at home cared most about. Instead experts, county heads, and Iowa Republicans said it descended into chaos.

“It was a hot mess,” said Rutgers University political-science Professor David Redlawsk.

By the time it was over, even the national Republican Party chairman called the spectacle an “embarrassment.”

“CNBC should be ashamed of how the debate was handled,” Chairman Reince Preibus said in a statement.

The audience inside the Coors Event Center at the University of Colorado gleefully roared when any of the top 10 Republican hopefuls went after the moderators themselves or the broader “mainstream media” — a frequent target for politicians of both stripes, the lines keep coming throughout the two-hour debate.

“The mainstream media are the Democratic Party’s biggest Super PAC,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

In conversations with political experts and county heads across Iowa, Rubio emerged as one of the clear winners from the night.

In particular, the freshman senator’s exchange with former quasi-mentor and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush cemented Rubio’s status.

Bush used the debate to hit Rubio over missing votes in the U.S. Senate and said as a constituent of the senator it was time for Rubio to step down if he wanted to focus on his White House aspirations.

Refusing to engage, Rubio insisted that others were egging on Bush.

“… The only reason you’re complaining about [my missing votes] is because somebody … has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you,” Rubio said.

While Rubio stood out from other candidates, Iowa Republicans welcomed the attacks lobbed at the media from all around the stage.

“They went right after the media, and frankly that’s very refreshing to me,” said Don Kass, Plymouth County — where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took the highest percentage of the vote in 2012 — Republican Central Committee head.  “It’s something I thought we needed to do all along.”

Chiming in later on in the debate, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz piled on.

“The questions that have been asked tonight thus far illustrate why the American people don’t like the media,” Cruz said.

Wendell Steven, Kossuth County Republicans chairman, said he was “sick to his stomach” following the debate due to the moderators’ questions, adding he doesn’t like the candidates “having to even discuss fantasy football.”

After lacking in speaking time most the night, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ridiculed a moderator for asking about daily fantasy sports instead of foreign policy in the process creating one of the most viral moments from the night.

“We have $19 trillion in debt, we people out of work, we have ISIS and Al Qaeda attacking us, and we’re talking about fantasy football,” Christie said channeling his inner Allen Iverson.

Iowa politicos have long said it takes more than just winning a debate to have a long-term impact in the Feb. 1 precinct caucuses. But asked who stood out to him, Pottawattamie County Republican Jeff Jorgenson said Cruz, a former standout college debater at Princeton, excelled.

“He’s a great public speaker, he knows the issues, he was involved in the issues,” Jorgenson said of Cruz. “He’s at the front leading the charge for a lot of these issues, he knows the issues inside and out, in my opinion has a correct stance on these issues which is very important.”

Perhaps even more important than standing out on stage is not having a terrible performance. 

A longtime caucus watcher, Redlawsk said he just does not see how Bush can move forward after the debate.

Bush was the media-proclaimed frontrunner when he entered the presidential race and had supporters gin up more than $100 million to back his efforts. But in recent days, the two-term governor has cut back on his campaign and openly declared that he would be fine doing other things if Republicans back candidates like businessman Donald Trump.

“It’s really hard to see where Jeb Bush is going after tonight, he doesn’t come off as a strong candidate coming out of tonight,” Redlawsk said.

Politics Editor Rebecca Morin and politics reporter Aleksandra Vujicic contributed to the article.

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