The highlight of Wednesday night’s debate for Republican presidential candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina? The finish, she told the audience, somewhat tongue-in-cheek.
But to Republican women in a focus group at a state GOP watch party down the road from Boulder at the Omni Interlocken in Broomfield, Fiorina was one of the night’s big winners.
The other, they said, was Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
And the big losers, to just about everyone at the watch party: the CNBC debate moderators.
The watch party began with the so-called undercard debate, featuring four candidates with average polling numbers under 3 percent, criteria set by CNBC.
But those candidates had their supporters at the watch party as well.
Jill Dudley, a marketing consultant from Broomfield, said she likes former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s focus on family values. She said he didn’t do everything as well as she would have liked but “I don’t vote for charisma.” Dudley said Santorum reflects her own interests in seeing family as a priority, in part due to observations about families in other parts of the world that seem to be more connected to each other and to their communities. She says this is especially the case for families in Middle Eastern countries. “We’re too disconnected here,” she said. Dudley’s opinions changed little after the main event.
State political leaders also weighed in on who they liked after the debate. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman told The Colorado Independent one of the more noticeable aspects of the debate was the solidarity candidates had on the problems with the moderators and their questions.
“I think Ted Cruz spoke for everybody sitting in the audience, getting increasingly frustrated by the fact that we weren’t hearing substantive questions about the economy,” Coffman said. “They have thought about their plans, how they would run the country and how to be good leaders.”
She added it was disrespectful that after all the preparation on the issue of the economy, that the moderators went off on tangents.
Coffman said several candidates did well, including Fiorina, Cruz and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. It also seemed like the moderators tried to steer away from businessman Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson, she added.
Secretary of State Wayne Williams was less committal. Many were impressive, he said, including those who talked about how to re-enable the American dream. He said all of the candidates in both debates had good ideas, and he applauded the maturity of those who refused to take some of the “bait” thrown in by the moderators.
The women’s focus group included 18 women ranging in age from 24 to 74. Most were white and under 50, although the group also had Latinas and one African-American, Sherrie Gibson, who is running for El Paso County Commissioner.
“These moderators are rough!” Gibson said, citing their personal attacks. She said she was impressed with how Rubio handled the questions about missing votes in the Senate (according to GovTrack.us, Rubio missed 176 votes, about 12.3 percent, in the last four years.)
Gibson said she’s still making up her mind, given that she originally supported Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who dropped out of the race last month. “Now I’m taking a second look at all of these candidates,” although she said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is close to dropping off her list entirely. “He doesn’t look like he wants this,” she explained.
Carson also didn’t score many points with the women in the focus group. One said she feared the quiet-spoken Carson wouldn’t match up well in a debate with Democratic candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
One of the more emotional reactions to the debate came from Ivette Diaz, a mid-30s Latina who works for the LIBRE Initiative. She likened her own experience to that of Rubio.
When polled later in the evening, the women’s group had a clear favorite: Rubio, with Fiorina second. In a quick survey, Rubio was called “presidential, patriotic, unflappable, authentic, a great communicator and optimistic.”
Once the debate concluded, a host of state elected officials and party leaders headed from Boulder to the Omni. That caravan also included Fiorina.
Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, always the comedian, asked the audience, which by then had increased substantially, to name the candidate they favored. It was a cacophony of names with no one candidate standing out.
“There’s the best candidate in this race against Hillary!” Cadman said.
Photos and video: Marianne Goodland