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Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, second from right, is joined on stage from left by Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and George Pataki during a FOX News Channel pre-debate forum at the Quicken Loans Arena, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. Seven of the candidates have not qualified for the primetime debate. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Sweet: Carly Fiorina breaks from the underdog pack

SHARE Sweet: Carly Fiorina breaks from the underdog pack
SHARE Sweet: Carly Fiorina breaks from the underdog pack

CLEVELAND —The underdog who broke from the pack in the first of two GOP debateson Thursday

was former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

Sen. Lindsey Graham R-SC also did well for himself, taking a hard swing at the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, as did Fiorina.

Hurling a stinging attack, Graham bluntly warned “all Americans who want a better life” should not vote for Hillary Clinton.

Fiorina was even more direct. “Hillary Clinton lies about Benghazi. She lies about e-mails.”

The five others in the first debate heat struggled to distinguish themselves in what turned out to be a sedate affair.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Sen. Rick Santorum R-Pa., Louisana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki, and former Virginia Gov.Jim Gilmore only seemed to demonstrate why they were in the second tier.

The elephant in the room — a Republican one of course — not on the early show stage was Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. He escaped fairly untouched in the first round.

Trump, flanked by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush may be more of a target when the major contenders get on the stage.

What’s at issue is whether Trump can demonstrate to fellow Republicans sorting through a crowded primary field that he is electable if he were to win the nomination.

Trump, the billionaire businessman and “The Apprentice” star came into the debate as the clear frontrunner in the national polls as well as dominating traffic on a variety of social media sites by an overwhelming margin.

The fascination with Trump, a master showman, also fueled projections of record viewership of the debate, hosted by Fox News, Facebook and the Ohio Republican Party at the Quicken Loans Arena.

The arena, the home court ofbasketball superstar LeBron James, is the site of the 41st Republican National Convention, to be held July 18-21 next year.

With 17 contenders running for the nomination, the ten top tier candidates won prime time spots with the seven underdogs meeting four hours earlier.

Asked about Trump — who will be center stage latertonight —former Texas Gov. Rick Perry took a swing. “I’ve had my issues with Donald Trump. I talked about Donald Trump from the standpoint of being an individual who was using his celebrity rather than his conservatism.

“How can you run for the Republican nomination and be for single-payer health care? I mean, I ask that with all due respect.”

Fiorina wielded more of a velvet hammer, first assessing Trump’s surging appeal, saying people are “sick of politics as usual. You know, whatever your issue, your cause, the festering problem you hoped would be resolved, the political class has failed you. That’s just a fact, and that’s what Donald Trump taps into.”

Then Fiorina pounced.

“I would also just say this. Since he has changed his mind on amnesty, on health care and on abortion, I would just ask, what are the principles by which he will govern?”

DEMOCRATIC DEBATES SET

In all, Republicans will have nine debates.

Hours before the Republican 2016 contenders debated, the Democratic National Committee announced four primary debates, with the first Oct. 13 in Nevada – which gives plenty of breathing room for Vice President Joe Biden, if indeed he decides to jump in the contest.

In addition to the October session, debates will be heldNov. 14in Des Moines, Iowa;Dec. 19in Manchester, New Hampshire, andJan. 17in Charleston, South Carolina, the three key early vote states.

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