Fiorina stands out in Republican 'happy hour' debate
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Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina stood out Thursday in the first GOP primary debate, taking shots at Donald Trump and Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDem senator: Pardoning targets of Russia probe would be 'crossing a fundamental line' Trump officials: Russia meddled in the election Trump lawyers asking about presidential pardon powers: report MORE while showing off her foreign policy acumen.

Fiorina, the only woman among the 17 Republican candidates taking part in Thursday’s two debates, shined as the seven candidates who didn’t make the Republican top 10 squared off in a 5 p.m. undercard.

Minutes into what's being called the happy hour debate, she took a shot at GOP front-runner Donald Trump for his connections to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

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“I didn't get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped in the race. Did any of you get a phone call from Bill Clinton? I didn't,” Fiorina said, referencing reports that Trump spoke with Bill Clinton ahead of his presidential launch.

“Maybe it's because I haven't given money to the foundation or donated to his wife's Senate campaign,” she added.

Fiorina further highlighted Trump's policy inconsistencies, an attack that may return in the 9 p.m. debate.

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

Fiorina outlined an ambitious agenda for her first days in office if she were to become president. She would call Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Iranian supreme leader to express displeasure with the agreement, she said, then on the second day, she'd convene a summit at Camp David with Arab allies.

Fiorina, who has often been discussed as a possible vice presidential candidate for her party, closed her performance by taking a shot at Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner for that party’s presidential nomination.

She criticized Clinton for dodging questions on topics including the 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

“We need a nominee who is going to throw every punch, not pull punches,” Fiorina said.

Google reported that Fiorina was the most searched candidate during the early debate, and she also received the most Twitter chatter.

Pundits also gave her good reviews, with Washington Post columnist George Will saying she “stood out with precision and fluency,” and Fox News host Chris Wallace also praising her.

Fox News pundit Charles Krauthammer said she won the debate “going away.”

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry also maintained a steady performance throughout the debate, using his time on stage to tout his state’s economic performance and calling for the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by President Obama to be torn up.

It was a much stronger performance for Perry than four years ago, when his first presidential campaign quickly came crashing down after he was heard saying “oops,” when he forgot that he wanted to abolish the Department of Education in response to a debate question.

But Perry also seemed to boost Fiorina, by at one point suggesting she should have negotiated the Iran deal on behalf of the U.S. instead of Secretary of State John Kerry.

“I would whole lot rather have Carly Fiorina over there doing our negotiation than John Kerry. Maybe we would have gotten a deal where we didn't give everything away,” Perry said.

Fiorina has not been shy about going after Clinton, whose allies quickly fired back on Thursday.

“Carly Fiorina sure seemed to like Hillary Clinton back when she spoke before the Clinton Global Initiative,” Correct the Record spokeswoman Mary Jennings said.

Correct the Record is a rapid-response organization allied with Clinton.

“In reality, Fiorina is just another cookie-cutter, out-of-touch far-right Republican — holding the same out-of-date positions as all the rest on stage, and willing to take shots at the positive, philanthropic work of others.”

The seven candidates for the initial debate performed before a mostly empty auditorium; tickets were not sold for the undercard to the 9 p.m. debate.

The Fox News hosts moderating the debate, Martha MacCallum and Bill Hemmer, essentially asked each candidate at the beginning why anyone should take them seriously.

MacCallum and Hemmer asked Perry why he's ready to lead the country now after his failed 2012 bid; whether Fiorina comparing herself to Margaret Thatcher is “a stretch;” if former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's moment had “passed;” and why Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal should be president given his low popularity in his home state.

The seven underdogs spared each other from criticism, but aimed fire at two Republicans who will be on the prime-time stage: Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Under questioning from the moderators, Jindal criticized Kasich for expanding Medicaid in Ohio under ObamaCare.

“I don’t think anybody should expand Medicaid,” said Jindal, who rejected the Medicaid expansion in his state. “I think it was a mistake to expand Medicaid everywhere, in Ohio and across the country.”

Kasich stands out among the Republican presidential candidates for accepting the expansion. Under ObamaCare, states have the choice of expanding eligibility for Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor, up to 138 percent of the poverty level.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki sided with Jindal. 

“I don’t think you expand entitlements when so many people are dependent on government,” he said. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who appeared loose and open in a New Hampshire forum earlier this week, seemed tense at the start of Thursday's debate and rambled on an answer about Clinton’s comment that she and her husband were “dead broke” when they left the White House.

But near the end of the debate, Graham shared a compelling story of depending on Social Security after his parents died.

“Today I'm 60. I'm not married, I don't have any kids. I would give up some Social Security to save the system that Americans are going to depend on now and in the future,” Graham said.

The Democratic National Committee panned the debate as a repeat of GOP candidates who ran for president four years ago.

“They are outdated, out of touch and out of line, but not out of company. If you missed the pre-show, these ideas will be on full display again in a few hours,” DNC spokeswoman Holly Shulman said in a statement.

Jesse Byrnes and Peter Sullivan contributed.

This story was updated at 7:46 p.m.