(NewsNation) — Four Republican presidential hopefuls took the debate stage Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for a last-chance effort to win over voters before the Iowa caucuses in just six weeks.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appeared in person at the University of Alabama, looking to position themselves as a viable alternative to former President Donald Trump — the dominant GOP front-runner.
Trump did not attend this or any of the previous debates, noting that he continues to dominate the polls and maintains a sizable lead over the rest of the party. Instead, the former president held a closed-door fundraiser in Florida.
But on the debate stage Wednesday night, the four candidates who were present hammered each other on top voter issues.
DeSantis and Haley, who have been battling for second place in recent polling, shared a lively back-and-forth out of the gate.
“Ron has continued to lie because he’s losing,” Haley said.
DeSantis was first asked about whether he should drop out of the race, while he currently sits in second place nationally.
“I’m sick of hearing about those polls,” DeSantis said.
Within minutes of the debate start, the attacks started flying toward Haley. Ramaswamy accused Haley of being too close to corporate interests, calling her corrupt.
“Nikki is corrupt,” Ramaswamy touted.
Haley dodged his attempts, “I love all the attention fellas, thank you.”
But as Ramaswamy increased his assault, his attacks toward Haley were shut down by Christie.
“We are not 25 minutes into this debate and he has insulted Nikki Haley’s basic intelligence, not her positions, her basic intelligence,” Christie said. “This is a smart, accomplished woman. You should stop insulting her.”
Once the personal attacks simmered down, the four candidates discussed their views on top voter issues, including China, foreign policy and inflation. Several minutes were also used to talk about gender identity issues and policies.
The group also looked to differentiate themselves from Trump, but not before Christie forced Trump into the conversation.
“Folks like these three on the stage make it seem like his [Trump’s] conduct is acceptable. Let me make it clear: His conduct is unacceptable. He is unfit,” Christie said.
However, more than half of Republican caucus voters in Iowa said if the Republican caucuses were held today, Trump would be their first choice, according to the latest Iowa State University survey, while 19% chose DeSantis and 12% said Haley.
Some Iowa polling had DeSantis and Haley tied, as Haley won over voters in recent debates.
Though DeSantis and Haley appear to be the clear front-runners behind Trump, Ramaswamy remains an important wild card in the Republican primaries.