Ahead of the first Republican presidential debate, 14 GOP candidates gathered in New Hampshire for a forum that both served as a warmup for the upcoming showdown and a reminder of the clunkiness that comes with such a crowded field of competitors.
The "Voters First Forum" held at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, at times resembled speed dating with each of the candidates quickly shuffled in and out and kept to strict, five-minute time limits throughout the two hour event.
The presidential contenders focused most of their criticisms on Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, though they did showcase some of the arguments they hope will separate them from the field of 17.
“The state of Texas created more jobs than anybody in this room during the time I was governor,” former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said.
“I’m a new, fresh face versus a name from the past. I’m someone from outside of Washington with a proven track record,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said, an often used jab at both Hillary Clinton and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the brother and son of two presidents.
Notably absent from the forum was GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, along with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Sens. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul appeared remotely from Washington, D.C., where they were stuck because of an evening vote on legislation that would defund Planned Parenthood. Paul had to correct himself on Twitter after saying he was in Washington for votes on defunding Obamacare.
"Oops I obviously meant I've been spending the last few weeks fighting to defund Planned Parenthood but I'm happy to defund Obamacare too," he tweeted.
Not all of the candidates at Monday’s forum will be on stage at the first debate in Cleveland, Ohio, on Thursday. Debate host Fox News says it will take the ten highest polling candidates, as judged by national polls. Currently left out, according to the latest poll averages calculated by NBC News, are Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, and Jim Gilmore.
The guidelines have proved to be a point of contention among candidates on the outside who argue early polls are a flawed way to determine who gets to debate. It is why events like Monday’s forum are critical for the low polling candidates unlikely to make the first cut.
“These kinds of forums are obviously very important, particularly for individuals like me -- fifty percent of America still doesn't even know who I am, probably a little better after tonight” former pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson joked, though he is expected to make the debate with plenty of cushion.