GOP presidential candidates square off in N. Charleston

VIDEO: Top GOP presidential candidates square off in N. Charleston

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The seven top-ranked Republican candidates took to the stage in North Charleston for the first presidential debate of the year in North Charleston.

Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Jeb Bush took on the issues and each other at the North Charleston Coliseum.

At one point of the prime time debate, Trump and Cruz, the two leading Republican candidates, went back and forth for several minutes.

Most of the candidates collectively attacked Hillary Clinton, saying she not qualified to lead the U.S. There was also a lot of confidence with one candidate declaring the next president was standing on that stage.

Protecting the Second Amendment was a hot topic for the candidates. Many criticized the current leadership in doing everything they can to undermine the right to have concealed weapons. That discussion was then redirected to one about mental health.

More topics discussed included, helping the middle class, job creation, the national debt and the war on crime.

Live results from polls of debate watchers showed nearly 33 percent believed Trump was winning this debate.

Thursday's debate is a big factor in how voters are going to cast their ballots in the primaries coming up in just weeks.

Three candidates took stage for 'undercard' debate

Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former Gov. Mike Huckabee and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum shared the stage hours before the "main event."

Fiorina said she'd use her bump from the main stage to her advantage, and if her goal was to get more face time on TV than her competitors, she succeeded- managing a possible pot shot at Gov. Nikki Haley's State of the Union Address in the process.

"We do not need to be lectured about why we're angry and frustrated and fearful because we've had an illegal immigration problem in this country for 25 years," Fiorina said.

One candidate's decision decision to not participate in the debate gave candidates an extra punching bag.

"I know I'm out of time, but I'm going to use some of Rand Paul's time," Santorum said, earning applause from the crowd.

For the most part, candidates stuck to criticism of Obama administration policies, such as Huckabee's statement that Obama's executive action on gun control was "unconstitutional and insane."

Thursday's debate was all or nothing for most candidates in the race just two-and-a-half weeks to Iowa, a month to New Hampshire, and just a little longer to South Carolina.

What voters saw may well echo into the voting booth in the primaries.

"The place that begins to decide things, the place where things begin to get settled is South Carolina," Rep. Mark Sanford said.

The Democratic candidates will descend on Charleston in just a few days time, taking part in a debate here Sunday.

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