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Analysts give Fiorina the gold, argue over silver and bronze in second GOP debate

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, right, leads fellow candidates Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump as they take the stage at the CNN debate
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, right, leads fellow candidates Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump as they take the stage at the CNN debate AP

Former businesswoman Carly Fiorina and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appear to have gained the most from the second Republican presidential debate Wednesday on CNN.

An informal survey of reaction and analysis suggests Fiorina’s second strong performance in a debate has helped her campaign. Some also said Christie stood out from the middle tier of GOP hopefuls, although that verdict wasn’t universal.

Fiorina’s responses were crisp and detailed. And she clearly bested Donald Trump, whose criticism of her appearance provided an awkward moment in the three-hour affair.

Most analysts gave Trump mixed grades. His lack of detail — promising to learn more about the world if elected, for example — wore thin. At the same time, he was the focus of much of the attention of the other candidates, always a good place for a candidate to be, particularly one riding on outsider credentials.

Trump’s suggestion that vaccines have caused an autism epidemic is drawing brutal criticism on Twitter.

Christie’s performance impressed some analysts.

But the verdict on the New Jersey governor wasn’t as strong as it was for Fiorina.

Jeb Bush finished lower on many scoring cards. He admitted smoking marijuana, which was good for some chuckles, and said he wanted Margaret Thatcher on the $10 bill. Neither position seems likely to greatly increase Bush’s support among GOP voters.

Bush’s defense of his wife, on the other hand, scored points against Trump.

The other candidates struggled for traction. Rand Paul did well late, defending state’s rights on marijuana use — popular with his younger, libertarian supporters.

And the debate showed real policy differences among the candidates, particularly on foreign affairs. Ben Carson urged the use of “intellect” in making foreign policy choices, while Marco Rubio seemed far more interventionist.

But the middle tier struggled for air at times.

Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee gave speeches aimed at conservative voters. John Kasich was the most conciliatory and compromising, a message that may appeal to the public but not primary voters. Scott Walker was a non-factor.

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