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GOP candidates target media, each other

Associated Press

Boulder, Colo. —  Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio fought for control of the Republican’s establishment wing in Wednesday night’s third GOP debate, as insurgent outsiders Donald Trump and Ben Carson defended the seriousness of their White House bids, underscoring the volatile two-track fight for the party’s presidential nomination.

But in an economic policy-focused debate, Trump and Carson at times faded to the background during the two-hour contest.

Bush, once seen as the top Republican contender, entered the debate desperately in need of a strong performance to right his sluggish campaign and soothe his supporters’ anxiety. He quickly targeted Rubio for his spotty voting record on Capitol Hill, signaling that he sees the Florida senator as the candidate most likely to block his political path.

“Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a 6-year term and you should be showing up for work,” said Bush, who was forced to slash campaign spending in response to slower fundraising. “You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job.”

Rubio, who has had a close relationship with Bush, responded sharply: “The only reason you’re doing it is that we’re running for the same position and someone has convinced you that attacking me will help you.”

Three months before primary voting begins, the Republican contest remains crowded and unwieldly. Yet the contours of the race have been clarified, with outsiders capitalizing on voter frustration with Washington and candidates with political experience hoping the race ultimately turns their way.

Trump, the brash real estate mogul, has dominated the Republican race for months, but was a less of a factor Wednesday night than in the previous two debates. He largely refrained from personal attacks on his rivals, which has been a signature of his campaign, even taking a light touch with Carson, who has overtaken him in recent Iowa polls.

Carson, the soft-spoken retired neurosurgeon who came into the debate with a burst of momentum, stuck to his low-key style. He sought to explain his vague tax policy, which he has compared to tithing, in which families donate the same portion of their income to their church regardless of how much they make. And he insisted he had no involvement with supplement maker Mannatech, although he acknowledged using its product and giving paid speeches for the company, which has faced a legal challenge over health claims for its products.

Carson said it was absurd to allege he’s connected to the company. “If someone put me on their home page, they did it without permission,” he said.

Trump bristled when asked by a debate moderator if his policy proposals, including building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and deporting everyone who is in the U.S. illegally, amounted to a “comic book” campaign. And he defended his record in the private sector despite having to declare bankruptcy, casting it as a business technique.

“I’ve used that to my advantage as a businessman,” Trump said. “I used the laws of the country to my benefit.”

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has been circling Trump for months, seeking to position himself as the heir to the businessman’s supporters if he fades. While Cruz holds office in the U.S. Senate, he’s cast himself as anti-establishment and a thorn in the side of GOP leaders.

Cruz garnered enthusiastic applause when he criticized debate moderators for trying to stir up fights among the candidates, casting it as a sign of media bias against Republicans — a popular line with GOP voters.

The jumbled GOP field is a stark contrast to the Democratic contest, where Hillary Rodham Clinton is strengthening her front-runner status over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Campaigning in New Hampshire ahead of the GOP debate, Clinton said the Republican contests are like a “reality TV show but the cast of characters are out of touch with actual reality.”

Wednesday’s debate in Colorado, an important general election state, focused on economic policy, including taxes and job growth.

Rubio turned questions about his personal financial struggles, including recently liquidating his retirement account, into an opportunity to tout his compelling personal story. The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio said he didn’t inherit money from his family and knows what it’s like to struggle to pay loans and afford to raise a family.

“I know what it’s like to owe that money,” Rubio said. “I’m not worried about my finances. I’m worried about the finances of everyday Americans.”

The feud between Bush and Rubio has been simmering for months, driven by the former Florida governor’s concern that his talented protege could eclipse him. Rubio is among the Republican field’s most talented politicians, and at age 44 he could represent the future in a way the son and brother of presidents cannot.

Bush has cast himself as a policy wonk and delivered measured answers to questions on tax policy and the nation’s budget. But other than his sharp critique of Rubio, Bush had few of the standout moments his supporters were seeking.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have each sought to break through with more mainstream voters. Kasich in particular was aggressive from the start in bemoaning the unexpected strength of unorthodox candidates.

“We are on the verge of perhaps picking someone who cannot do this job,” Kasich said.

Christie, whose campaign has so far failed to meet expectations, cast himself as best qualified to defeat Clinton in the general election.

“You put me on the stage with her next September and she won’t get within 10 miles of the White House,” he said.

Also on stage were former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and former technology executive Carly Fiorina, the star of the second GOP debate. Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard CEO, has struggled to capitalize on that strong performance and has faded toward the back of the pack.

The four lowest-polling candidates participated in an earlier undercard event: South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former New York Gov. George Pataki. None has gotten close to breaking into the upper tier of candidates.

Play by play:

Ben Carson says his plan to replace Medicare with individual health savings accounts will give people the power to make smarter health care decisions.

Carson is proposing taking the money now spent on Medicare and instead giving roughly $12,500 annually to people for their individual accounts.

He says the approach reflects a broader theme of his campaign: helping people use their own intellect to make better choices than the government can make for them.

Forget attacking the other candidates, Chris Christie is taking a whack at the moderators.

The New Jersey governor has fighting words for CNBC correspondent John Harwood after several persistent questions about climate change during the Wednesday night debate.

“Even in New Jersey what you’re doing is called rude,” Christie says.

On climate change, Christie says investment in “all types of energy” is important. He notes that New Jersey has worked with the private sector to boost solar energy.

———

Jeb Bush and Chris Christie are big football fans, and are among the millions of Americans who manage fantasy football teams. But they line up on the other side of the ball when it comes to regulating fantasy football.

Asked whether it amounts to gambling, and whether the government should regulate, Bush says, “My instinct is to say, hell no.”

But he is acknowledging that regulating fantasy football probably needs to be looked into.

He says his team is undefeated.

But Christie, with a look of exasperation, says to the moderators: “We have $19 trillion in debt … and you’re talking about fantasy football”

The comment ignited a burst of applause in the auditorium, including from Sen. Ted Cruz, standing to Christie’s right.

Christie snorts: “Let people play. Who cares?”

———

Chris Christie is using a dispute between the White House and the FBI to accuse President Obama of being weak on crime.

The New Jersey governor says Obama hasn’t given police officers the support they need.

He noted FBI Director James Comey’s recent claim that police officers have become afraid to enforce the law thanks to ever-present cellphones and the threat of viral videos. In a speech last week, Comey claimed the anxiety is contributing to a rise in violent crime.

The White House says it disagrees with Comey’s analysis. But Christie says Obama should have backed up his FBI chief. He says the president’s top job is “to protect the safety and security of the American people” and “the president has failed.”

Christie says as president he’d support law enforcement, adding, “That’s real moral authority.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is upset about being asked whether he thinks Donald Trump has the moral authority to unite the country.

The question during the third Republican presidential debate drew groans and boos from the audience.

Huckabee says: “The few questions I’ve got, the last one I need is to give him more time. I love Donald Trump. He is a good man.”

Then Huckabee jokes: “I’m wearing a Trump tie tonight. Get over that.”

Trump calls the question “nasty.”

Huckabee says “Donald Trump would be a better president every day of the week and twice on Sunday rather than Hillary.”

———

Donald Trump has a permit to carry a gun in New York. And he says more people should follow his lead.

In the third Republican debate, Trump calls gun-free zones a “catastrophe,” describing them as “target practice for sickos and the mentally ill.”

Trump says he carries a gun on occasion, but adds, “I like to be unpredictable.”

Told that some Trump resorts and properties don’t allow guns, Trump says he’d consider a new policy. “I would change it,” he said.

John Kasich says the state of Ohio doesn’t need to legalize marijuana as a source of revenue. Even if it did, he says it’s a bad practice to send “mixed signals” to kids about drugs by legalizing marijuana.

But that’s about all Kasich has to say on the subject. Instead, he’s the discussion to income inequality. He says he’d move to give more power back to the states, particularly in education, to give children better access to skills they can use to get ahead.

———

Rivals Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio agree on the importance of lower taxes.

Both Republican presidential candidates have proposed tax cuts that largely benefit the wealthy and drive up the deficit. But at the third Republican presidential debate they defended their ideas as best for the economy.

Bush says higher taxes on wealthier Americans are hurting the economy. Bush says: “The government has tried it their way. Under their proposals it has failed miserably.”

Rubio says that because the rich pay so much more in taxes than the poor, any tax cut will inevitably favor them. Rubio says, “The more you tax something the less you get.”

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul jumped in to tout his flat tax proposal. He argues that it’s fairer because it ditches the payroll tax, which bites more heavily into the middle class.

———

Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have found a common enemy: the Federal Reserve.

Both Cruz and Paul say they’d like to audit the Fed and expose how its monetary policy is damaging the economy.

Cruz is blasting the central bank’s policies of keeping interest rates low, calling it an “incredible experiment.” He says “the Fed should get out of the business of trying to juice our economy.”

Paul says he wants to bar the Fed from lobbying Congress. He says he want to “bring the Fed forward” and expose its role in the housing crisis and the rise of income inequality. He says “we should not have price control on the price of money.”

For Paul, complaining about the Fed is a family tradition. Paul’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul, campaigned for president with the slogan “End the Fed.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says Hillary Rodham Clinton and Democrats have the biggest super PAC in the presidential race: “It’s called the mainstream media.”

Rubio says he believes Clinton “got exposed as a liar” last week during her testimony before a House select committee examining the Benghazi attacks.

But he says the media cast her appearance as a triumph.

Other Republicans are also criticizing the press during the debate. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz says questions being asked by the CNBC moderators are unfair and not focused on substantive issues.

———

Marco Rubio says programs that bring in more immigrants as high-tech workers are valuable.

The Florida senator argues that companies who abuse the visa program should be penalized.

Donald Trump’s campaign website has called Rubio “Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator” for supporting the tech visas.

Trump has contended the program short-changes American workers. But at the debate he claims he never made the statement and says he wants to keep skilled immigrant tech employees in the United States.

———

Ben Carson is pushing back on questions about his involvement with a medical supplement company that has come under legal scrutiny.

Carson says he made a few paid speeches for Texas-based Mannatech Inc. and uses its products, but calls it “absurd” to say he has a relationship with them.

Asked why his picture was on the home page for the company, Carson says they must have used it without his permission. When he was pushed over whether that betrayed any issues with his “vetting process,” the crowd began to boo.

Carson smiled. “They know,” he said.

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio fought for control of the Republican’s establishment wing in Wednesday night’s third GOP debate, as insurgent outsiders Donald Trump and Ben Carson defended the seriousness of their White House bids, underscoring the volatile two-track fight for the party’s presidential nomination.

Bush, once seen as the top Republican contender, entered the debate in the midst of the most difficult stretch of his White House campaign. He quickly targeted Rubio for his spotty voting record on Capitol Hill, signaling that he sees the Florida senator as the candidate most likely to block his political path.

“Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a 6-year term and you should be showing up for work,” said Bush, who is struggling to right his campaign after being forced to slash spending in response to slower fundraising. “You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job.”

Rubio, who has had a close relationship with Bush, responded sharply: “The only reason you’re doing it is that we’re running for the same position and someone has convinced you that attacking me will help you.”

Three months before primary voting begins, the Republican contest remains crowded and unwieldly. Yet the contours of the race have been clarified, with outsiders capitalizing on voter frustration with Washington and candidates with political experience hoping the race ultimately turns their way.

Trump, the brash real estate mogul, has dominated the Republican race for months, but was a less of a factor Wednesday night than in the previous two debates. He largely refrained from personal attacks on his rivals, which has been a signature of his campaign, even taking a light touch with Carson, who has overtaken him in recent Iowa polls.

Carson, the soft-spoken retired neurosurgeon who came into the debate with a burst of momentum, stuck to his low-key style. He sought to explain his vague tax policy, which he has compared to tithing, in which families donate the same portion of their income to their church regardless of how much they make. And he insisted he had no involvement with supplement maker Mannatech, although he acknowledged using its product and giving paid speeches for the company, which has faced a legal challenge over health claims for its products.

Carson said it was absurd to allege he’s connected to the company. “If someone put me on their home page, they did it without permission,” he said.

Trump bristled when asked by a debate moderator if his policy proposals, including building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and deporting everyone who is in the U.S. illegally, amounted to a “comic book” campaign. And he defended his record in the private sector despite having to declare bankruptcy, casting it as a business technique.

“I’ve used that to my advantage as a businessman,” Trump said. “I used the laws of the country to my benefit.”

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz garnered enthusiastic applause when he criticized debate moderators for trying to stir up fights among the candidates, casting it as a sign of media bias against Republicans — a popular line with GOP voters.

“How about talking about the substantive issues people care about?” Cruz said. The senator has been seeking to position himself to inherit Trump’s support if the businessman’s campaign collapses.

Wednesday’s debate in Colorado, an important general election state, focused on economic policy, including taxes and job growth.

Rubio turned questions about his personal finances into an opportunity to tout his compelling personal story. The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio said he didn’t inherit money from his family and knows what it’s like to struggle to pay loans and afford to raise a family.

“I know what it’s like to owe that money,” Rubio said. “I’m not worried about my finances. I’m worried about the finances of everyday Americans.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are each seeking to break through with more mainstream voters. Kasich in particular was aggressive from the start in bemoaning the unexpected strength of unorthodox candidates.

“We are on the verge of perhaps picking someone who cannot do this job,” Kasich said.

Also on stage were former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and former technology executive Carly Fiorina, the star of the second GOP debate. Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard CEO, has struggled to capitalize on that strong performance and has faded toward the back of the pack.

The four lowest-polling candidates participated in an earlier undercard event: South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former New York Gov. George Pataki. None has gotten close to breaking into the upper tier of candidates.

--------------

Former technology executive Carly Fiorina says it is the “height of hypocrisy” for Hillary Rodham Clinton to talk about being the first woman president when “every single policy” she endorses is “demonstrably bad for women.”

Fiorinia is joining Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in going after Clinton in the third Republican presidential debate.

Fiorina says 92 percent of the jobs lost during President Barack Obama’s first term belonged to women. And Cruz says 3.7 million women went into poverty during Obama’s presidency.

Cruz says big government benefits the wealthy, lobbyists and giant corporations. He says he is fighting for Hispanics, women and single mothers.

———

Ohio Gov. John Kasich isn’t going to let voters forget he helped lead efforts to balance the federal budget while serving in Congress in the 1990s.

He calls the budget deal passed by the House on Wednesday a “silly deal” that is more of “the same old stuff.” If elected president, he says he’d push for a balanced budget amendment to make sure the government doesn’t spend more than what is has.

Kasich says his time in Congress and two terms as Ohio’s governor serve as proof of his ability to manage a growing economy and write responsible budgets. He brings up his time working on the balanced budget in Congress often on the debate stage and on the campaign trail.

Jeb Bush is dodging a question he had no problem answering four years ago: Would you sign a budget deal that cut $10 for every $1 in taxes raised?

He says, “Well, the deal was done.”

He adds: “Now we see Hillary Clinton proposing a third term of economic policy for our country. We need to reverse that. And my record was one of cutting taxes each and every year.”

But Bush is not saying he would sign the deal today, when he’s a candidate for president, trying to gain traction.

Sticking with his attack on Congress, he says: “You find me a Democrat that will cut spending $10 — heck, find me a Republican in Congress that would cut spending $1 — I’ll talk to him.”

Zeroing in on Democrats, Bush says: “You find a Democrat that’s for cutting spending $10? I’ll give him a warm kiss.”

———

Chris Christie says the Justice Department under President Obama has been a “political Justice Department.”

Christie says the department has let politics drive prosecutions and given some favored companies “a pass” while coming down unnecessarily hard on others.

The New Jersey governor and former prosecutor made the assertion when asked whether he thought some General Motors executives should go jail for their role in a deadly ignition-switch defect scandal.

Christie says they should and adds, “If I were a prosecutor that’s exactly where’d they be.”

Christie is also criticizing the department’s decision to prosecute CIA chief David Petraeus for sharing classified information.

——

Ben Carson says regulation is choking small businesses in America.

Asked about drug prices, Carson focused his answer on business oversight. He says job creation is limited because businesses are dealing with excessive regulations.

Carson says that instead of focusing on one specific group, the country needs a “major reduction” in “regulatory influence.”

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio fought for control of the Republican’s establishment wing in Wednesday night’s third Republican debate, as insurgent outsiders Donald Trump and Ben Carson defended the seriousness of their White House bids, underscoring the two-track fight for the GOP presidential nomination.

Bush, once seen as the top Republican contender, entered the debate in the midst of the most difficult stretch of his White House campaign. By quickly targeting Rubio for his spotty voting record on Capitol Hill, Bush signaled that he sees his fellow Floridian as the candidate most likely to block his political path.

“Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a 6-year term and you should be showing up for work,” said Bush, who is struggling to right his campaign after being forced to slash spending in response to slower fundraising.

Rubio, who has had a close relationship with Bush, responded sharply: “The only reason you’re doing it is that we’re running for the same position and someone has convinced you that attacking me will help you.”

Three months before primary voting begins, the Republican field is a contest between Washington outsiders and those with political experience who are hoping the race ultimately turns their way.

Trump, the brash real estate mogul, has dominated the Republican race for months, though he’s been overtaken by Carson in early voting Iowa.

The billionaire bristled when asked by a debate moderator if his policy proposals, including building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and deporting everyone who is in the U.S. illegally, amounted to a “comic book” campaign. And he defended his record in the private sector despite having to declare bankruptcy, casting it as a business technique.

“I’ve used that to my advantage as a businessman,” Trump said. “I used the laws of the country to my benefit.”

Carson, the soft-spoken retired neurosurgeon who came into the debate with a burst of momentum, stuck to his low-key style. He sought to explain his vague tax policy, which he has compared to tithing, in which families donate the same portion of their income to their church regardless of how much they make.

Carson said in an earlier debate that someone making $10 billion would pay $1 billion in taxes. Wednesday night he floated the idea of a 15 percent flat rate. Critics have questioned whether the government could still raise enough revenue under that type of flat tax system to pay for programs like Social Security.

Six other candidates were also on stage for the CNBC-sponsored debate in Colorado, each looking for his own breakthrough moment.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz garnered enthusiastic applause when he criticized debate moderators for trying to stir up fights among the candidates, casting it as a sign of media bias against Republicans — a popular line with GOP voters.

“How about talking about the substantive issues people care about?” Cruz said. The senator has been seeking to position himself to inherit Trump’s support if the businessman’s campaign collapses.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are each seeking to break through with more mainstream voters. Kasich in particular was aggressive from the start in bemoaning the unexpected strength of unorthodox candidates.

“We are on the verge of perhaps picking someone who cannot do this job,” Kasich said.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is returning to his debate style of talking directly to viewers, suggesting to Americans they’d be fleeced on Social Security under a Democratic president.

On raising Social Security taxes to close the looming gap, Christie asks, “If someone has already stolen money from you, are you going to give them more?”

Christie says, “Social Security is going to be insolvent in seven to eight years.”

Ignoring his fellow candidates and the CNBC panelists, Christie says he’s speaking to “the guy that has a landscaping business.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee compares the federal government to convicted investor Bernie Madoff. He says: “Yes, we’ve been stolen from. Yes, we’ve been lied to.”

Donald Trump says his firms’ record of declaring bankruptcy shows he’s good at dealing with debt problems.

Four of Trump’s Atlantic City companies have filed for bankruptcy. Trump is defending that at the third Republican presidential debate. He says the problem is the economic collapse of Atlantic City.

Trump adds that he had the legal right to file bankruptcy.

Trump concludes by noting the nation’s financial woes and saying, “Boy, am I good at solving debt problems.”

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul says he’s more worried about Congress bankrupting the American people than he is about a government shutdown.

Paul says he opposes the budget deal passed Wednesday evening in the House of Representatives, which raises the county’s borrowing limit as well as spending caps.

He says Democrats and Republicans backing the deal are part of an “unholy alliance” to spend the country “into oblivion.”

Paul says the deal gives him little hope that Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, likely to be the next House speaker, will bring meaningful change.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has a beef with the media.

Cruz says the questions being asked him and other Republican candidates in the third debate are unfair.

He says they “illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match.”

He says the CBNC moderators are more interested in pitting the candidates against one another rather than “talking about the substantive issues people care about.”

Cruz says the Republican debate is a stark contrast with the Democratic contest, “where every fawning question” was about “which one of you is more handsome and wise?”

His response came to a question about whether his opposition to a budget deal in Congress shows that he’s not a problem-solver.

Carly Fiorina says her record as former CEO of Hewlett-Packard isn’t a liability, but proof of her leadership skills.

During the third Republican debate, Fiorina was asked about her time at the helm of HP, where she laid off 30,000 workers and was fired by the board.

Fiorina says she was brought in to be a change agent and had to make some “tough calls.” She also touts the fact that former HP board member Tom Perkins has recently spoken up on her behalf.

Fiorina says she is prepared to “run on my record all day long.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is defending his job performance against criticism from one of his constituents — Jeb Bush.

Bush is joining critics who say Rubio has skipped too many votes in the Senate as he campaigns for president.

Bush says Rubio should do his job. He says “this was a 6-year term and you should be showing up to work.”

Bush adds that if Rubio didn’t want to show up for votes, he should “just resign and let someone else take the job.”

The attack was the harshest of the debate so far and was Bush’s first chance to stand out on the crowded stage.

Rubio is pushing back hard. He says media criticism of his voting record is an example of bias against conservatives. And Bush is only piling on because “we’re running for the same position and someone has convinced you that attacking me will help you.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is attacking Marco Rubio for missing Senate votes.

Critics have gone after Rubio for missing a lot of votes during his first term in Congress. Bush took it a step further in the Republican Party’s debate Wednesday night.

Bush told Rubio he signed up for a six-year term and “should be showing up for work.”

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson says he would get rid of all income tax deductions and loopholes if he were president.

Carson says during the third Republican presidential debate that there also needs to be strategic cutting. He says anyone who believes savings couldn’t be found in federal agencies is living in a “fantasy world.”

Carson says his tax plan would result in a flat tax around 15 percent.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich says economic proposals from his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination are “just fantasy.”

He slammed proposals from neurosurgeon Ben Carson and developer Donald Trump as unrealistic and deficit-busting. Kasich has proposed a large tax cut as well and promised to balance the budget through unspecified cuts.

Trump quips that Kasich’s poll numbers are so bad he barely qualified for the debate.

Donald Trump sounds like he’d like to fire CNBC debate moderator John Harwood.

Harwood’s first question to the real estate mogul suggested Trump’s promises were so huge they were cartoonish. Harwood asked Trump if he was running a “comic book version of a presidential campaign.”

Trump rejected the phrase and added, “it’s not a very nicely asked question.”

Trump says his proposals are realistic. He says if China can build a 13,000-mile Great Wall, he can build a wall along 1,000 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border.

Trump also says he can force Mexico to pay for the wall. He says “a politician cannot get them to pay, I can.”

Weaknesses explained

Ohio Gov. John Kasich says proposals from his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination are “just fantasy.”

He slammed proposals from neurosurgeon Ben Carson and developer Donald Trump as unrealistic and deficit-busting. Kasich has proposed a large tax cut as well and promised to balance the budget through unspecified cuts.

Trump quips that Kasich’s poll numbers are so bad he barely qualified for the debate.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz says his biggest weakness is that he’s “too agreeable.” He’s kidding.

The notably fiery Cruz, who often stands against his own party in Congress, says his biggest weakness is actually that he’s a fighter who is passionate about the Constitution.

He says he doesn’t care if he’s not the guy voters want to have a beer with, because he’s the one who will make sure they get home.

Chris Christie is wasting no time in lashing out at Democrats.

The New Jersey governor is using an opening question about his greatest weakness to clobber the three Democratic candidates for president.

Christie lists the GOP’s possible opponents as “the socialist,” ‘’the isolationist” and “the pessimist.”

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is a self-declared socialist. It’s not clear who is the isolationist but Christie says Hillary Clinton is the pessimist.

Christie promises “you put me on the stage with her next September and she won’t get within 10 miles of the White House.”

Dr. Ben Carson is subtly belittling his Republican rivals at the GOP debate in Boulder, by promising not to engage in negative campaigning.

Yet he says in discussing his greatest weakness that he doesn’t really see himself “in that position” of president of the United States.

Carson, leading in Iowa and national polls, says he didn’t see himself as president until the “hundreds of thousands of people” who are supporting him persuaded him to run.

Donald Trump says his greatest weakness is that he is too trusting.

In his first answer of the third Republican debate, Trump is responding to a question about his biggest weakness by saying that he trusts “people too much.”

But on the flip side, Trump says if people let him down, “I never forgive.”

Jeb Bush says he’s impatient and he can’t fake anger.

The former Florida governor says those are his biggest weaknesses. Bush and the other Republican presidential candidates were asked to name their biggest weakness during the first question of their third debate in Colorado.

Bush says he believes “this is still the most extraordinary country on the face of the earth and it troubles me that people are rewarded for tearing down this country.”

He says, “It’s never been that way in American politics before and I can’t do it.”

Before it starts

Ben Carson is entering Wednesday night’s third GOP presidential debate with a surge of momentum, ensuring the soft-spoken retired neurosurgeon will face heightened attention from rivals in need of a breakout moment three months before primary voting begins.

Carson, a low-key presence in the first two debates, could face a barrage of criticism from the nine other candidates on stage. Since Donald Trump fell behind him in Iowa polls, Trump has been aggressively jabbing his rival for his speaking style and raising questions about his Seventh-day Adventist faith.

“We’ll see how Ben holds up to the scrutiny,” Trump said Tuesday on MSNBC.

Trump has been the main attraction in the GOP debates, helping draw record audiences to the prime-time television events. But his slip in Iowa has prompted some speculation among Republicans that the tide could be turning against the bombastic real estate mogul, and a weak performance Wednesday could reinforce that view.

Also in need of a strong night is former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who is in the midst of one of the most trying stretches of his White House campaign. Slower-than-expected fundraising has led Bush to cut spending and overhaul his campaign structure, and he’s voiced frustration with the way the unusual race has progressed.

If the election is going to be about fighting to get nothing done, he says, “I don’t want any part of it.”

Taken together, it’s a Republican field that remains crowded and unwieldy with less than 100 days until the Iowa caucuses. The political rookies appealing to voter anger with Washington have ceded no ground, and establishment politicians are still waiting for the race to turn their way — and increasingly wondering if it ever will.

The jumbled GOP race is a stark contrast to the Democratic field, where Hillary Rodham Clinton has strengthened her standing as the clear front-runner. Campaigning in New Hampshire Wednesday, she said the GOP debates are like a “reality TV show but the cast of characters are out of touch with actual reality.”

The debate in Colorado, an important general election battleground state, will run for two hours after the last affair went on for more than three. Debate host CNBC has said the event will focus on economic issues, including taxes and job growth.

Among the participants are two freshman senators — Florida’s Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz of Texas. Rubio has sought to capitalize on Bush’s stumbles but faces his own financial concerns. Cruz is positioning himself to inherit Trump’s supporters if that campaign collapses.

While Carson is unknown to many Americans, he’s built a loyal following with tea party-aligned voters and religious conservatives. His campaign has started running new television advertisements in early voting states that center on his experience as a doctor and highlight his status as a political outsider.

Carson has raised eyebrows with incendiary comments about Muslims and references to Nazis and slavery on the campaign trail. But his standing in early states has only appeared to strengthen with each controversial comment.

Carson’s biggest weakness may be a lack of specific policy proposals. The issues listed on his campaign website are vague, including a tax plan that calls for a “fairer, simpler, and more equitable” system. On foreign policy, he’s said, “all options should remain on the table when dealing with international bullies,” such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Policy discussions are usually a welcome refuge for Bush, the former Florida governor. But his challenge Wednesday is less about highlighting his mastery of the issues and more about showing his supporters he has the temperament to fight through a long and grueling primary campaign.

“You’ve got a guy here speaking from experience, speaking with knowledge about issues, speaking with a reasonable approach to matters,” said Pat Hickey, a Bush supporter from Nevada. “The problem, though, is, do those things seem to matter to the electorate?”

With a well-funded super PAC standing by, Bush doesn’t appear to be on the brink of a campaign collapse. But a stronger debate performance could help soothe supporter anxiety.

Also on stage will be Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and former technology executive Carly Fiorina. Each will be eager for the kind of standout moment that Fiorina had in the second debate to jumpstart her campaign.

Early round with four lowest-polling candidates

Here are a few takeaways from the early event in Colorado.

NO BREAKOUTS

Former technology executive Carly Fiorina performed so well in the undercard event at the first GOP debate that she rose enough in subsequent national polls to earn a place on the main stage at the next event. It doesn’t seem likely that any of the candidates in Wednesday’s second-stage meetup will repeat that feat.

At times, they seemed desperate for attention. After being swatted away by moderators on other questions, Pataki blurted at one point, “Let me try to get a word in edgewise.” Another time, Jindal said, “Y’all can clap,” as he tried in vain to entice the audience to respond to his tax plan. Few did.

SINGLE-ISSUE GRAHAM

Graham left no doubt he is running largely on a single-issue platform: national security. Asked why he is likely to support a Congressional budget deal, he answered, seemingly as a non-sequitur, “Let me tell you what is real: The threat to our homeland.”

He said he would vote for the recently agreed-to budget deal between the White House and congressional GOP leaders, which staunch conservatives largely reject, solely because it increases funding to the Defense Department.

Later, asked whether corporations that shelter profits overseas to avoid U.S. taxes “owe” anything to America, Graham again returned to national security: “The ones I’m most worried about are those in uniform — they need a commander in chief who knows what the hell they’re doing.”

Economic issues set to dominate Republican debate

PATAKI APPEALS TO DEMOCRATS

The moderators from the CNBC cable network asked Graham if his positions on climate change and immigration meant he should be on the Democratic debate stage. Yet it was Pataki who often sounded the most Democratic. He took his fellow Republicans to task on climate change, for saying either that it is not real or that humans are not contributing to it.

“We question science that everyone accepts,” he said. “Instead, we should embrace innovation.” He also said Wall Street is too powerful — not the most popular position for Republicans who often stress the need to boost businesses. “There’s a corrupt connection between Wall Street and Washington,” he said, echoing a refrain more common to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

BEST QUESTION: BEST APPS

In what may be a reminder of the candidates’ standing in the race, the question that generated the best lines of the night wasn’t about policy, but a “lighting round” ask about their top three smartphone apps.

Jindal says he must be “the last American” who doesn’t have an iPhone. Instead he uses a BlackBerry. Pataki says he uses ride-hailing app Uber, because he no longer has a driver now that he’s out of office. Santorum clicks on the NHL app and The Wall Street Journal’s.

Graham won laughs by saying the only reason he has an iPhone is because he gave his cell number to Donald Trump, who famously read it aloud at a campaign rally earlier this year. “Donald has done more to upgrade my technology than my whole staff,” he said.

The Republican presidential candidates debated for the third time in the 2016 nomination contest, this time in battleground Colorado, as they compete to narrow down the wide-open contest.

The four lowest-polling candidates participated: South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former New York Gov. George Pataki. None has gotten close to breaking into the upper tier of candidates.

The undercard debate among the four lowest-standing GOP presidential hopefuls has concluded. The prime-time debate among the top 10 competitors begins at 8 p.m.

Jindal used his closing remarks at the debate to take a swipe at Hillary Rodham Clinton.

He says the former secretary of state would take the country further down the road toward socialism. He says, “My message is to conservatives: This is our hour.”

Graham made reference to fellow Republican Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America great again” in his closing statement. Graham says: “America is great. I intend to make America strong again.”

Pataki said he wants to put aside partisan differences to get things done. Pataki said in his closing: “We are one America. We work together across party lines.”

Santorum referenced the steelworkers he represented in Congress. Santorum said he is aligning himself with working men and women who feel Washington doesn’t care about them.

Phone technology

Can you tell a presidential candidate by his smartphone apps?

The four rattled off their favorite apps during the third GOP presidential debate.

Jindal says he must be “the last American” who doesn’t have an iPhone. Instead he uses a BlackBerry.

Graham says the only reason he has an iPhone is because he gave his cell number to Donald Trump. Graham had to get another phone after the real estate developer read his number at a rally. He likes the Fox News app.

Pataki uses ride-hailing app Uber and Santorum clicks on the NHL app and the Wall Street Journal’s.

Graham is taking a personal approach to answering a question about Social Security.

The South Carolina senator says he understands better than most how the program keeps people out of poverty.

He says without the government payments his family “wouldn’t have made it” after his father — a bar owner — died.

He says he “will save Social Security because I know why it exists.”

Graham is proposing to shore up the program by asking the well-off to give up some benefits. He also says young people would have to work longer to help pay for benefits.

Jindal says if Santorum wants to concede the tax-cut wing of the Republican Party to him, he’s fine with that.

Jindal says during the early Republican presidential debate that Republicans should be willing to say they want to cut taxes in order to grow the economy.

Jindal’s jab comes as Santorum says he wants to reduce the size of government and the deficit, and adding a trillion dollars in tax cuts isn’t the way to do it.

Santorum says the key to addressing poverty is focusing on the family economy. He says not enough is said about how important stable families are to making middle America safe.

Santorum isn’t worried about a lack of competition in the nation’s beer industry. Health care, though, is another story.

Anheuser-Busch is in the process of buying its top competitor, SABMiller, the largest merger in the beer industry. But Santorum says the people of Colorado need not worry, as the state’s active craft brewing industry provides plenty of options for beer lovers.

On corporate competition as a whole, Santorum is taking a shot at the health care industry. He says the Affordable Care Act reduces competition in the insurance market, pushing out small insurers. He says it’s part of Democrats’ plan to lead the nation to a single-payer health care system.

Ex-Im bank

Santorum is defending his support for reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, an unpopular position with some fiscal hardliners, such as the influential anti-tax group Club for Growth.

Santorum is calling the government entity that provides loans to firms seeking business overseas a way to keep U.S. businesses competitive.

Santorum says the Ex-Im Bank’s purpose is not to protect corporate giants like General Electric or Boeing.

Sticking with his blue-collar conservative emphasis, Santorum says: “The American workers. That’s why we need to have a level playing field to compete with the rest of the world.”

Wages and workers

Santorum says immigrants are partially to blame for sluggish wage growth.

The former Pennsylvania senator was asked about jobs and wages at the Republican undercard debate Wednesday night.

He argues that the immigration policy backed by his rival, Graham, would allow more immigrants in the country and depress wages.

He says “we have to make sure that we’re not flooding this country” with low-wage workers.

Graham says it’s not realistic to deport 11 million immigrants.

Santorum says workers need to be trained in the skills that are needed, adding “we don’t have the right match.” He advocates for more job training and better education.

Graham is dodging a question about whether companies owe anything to their country in addition to their shareholders.

Graham is avoiding the question during the early Republican presidential debate, saying corporate taxes need to be lowered so companies don’t leave.

But then he pivots to say his goal is to help people who earn too much to be on public assistance but are still living paycheck to paycheck.

Graham says the purpose of his presidency is to grow the economy, and the best way to do that is to grow the middle class and rebuild the military.

Universal family leave

Jindal says it’d be nice to have universal family leave, but the government can’t mandate it.

Jindal is debating in the undercard round of the third Republican presidential debate. He is responding to a question about whether Washington should mandate paid maternity leave.

Jindal says, “The government can’t wave a magic wand and make that happen.” He adds that government regulations already hurt job growth in many ways.

Business taxes

Pataki says he would eliminate “virtually every single” corporate tax loophole in an effort to take on Wall Street. But he’s not giving specifics on which, if any, he’d keep.

Instead, Pataki says he’d reduce the tax rate on manufacturing to 12 percent, the lowest in the world. He also says he’d create a fairer tax system for all Americans.

Pataki says it’s essential to end the “corrupt connection” between Washington and Wall Street, and says his record passing tax cuts through a Democratic legislature shows he can get it done.

Graham is launching into a spirited defense of his Republican credentials.

Asked if his acknowledgment of climate change and support for a path to citizenship for immigrants in the U.S. illegally disqualified him from the GOP, he responds, “I’m tired of telling people what they want to hear.”

On climate change, he says, “I just want a solution that will be good for the economy, that doesn’t destroy it.”

On immigration, he says, “We’re not going to deport 11 million people.”

He says it’s time for Republicans to embrace reality because that’s how they will win and fix problems.

Taking on insurgent Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, Graham says he “went to the Soviet Union for his honeymoon, and I don’t think he ever came back.”

Going after Clinton

The first attack on Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton in the early Republican presidential candidate debate comes from Pataki.

He says the former secretary of state should be disqualified from being president because she maintained an email server at her home and “We have no doubt that was hacked.”

Graham piled on, saying President Barack Obama’s foreign policy needs to be completely replaced and Clinton should be the last person to do that.

Graham says if he’s president “the party’s over” for the world’s dictators.

He says, “Make me commander-in-chief and this crap stops.”

Taxes, spending

Jindal promises to do for the United States what he’s done for his state: cut spending and taxes.

Even Republicans in his state have criticized him for cutting spending too much and refusing to raise any taxes or fees to close deficits. The Republican seeking to replace Jindal as governor, Sen. David Vitter, has pointedly said his tax policy will not be like Jindal’s.

Jindal stands by his record, saying he’s proud he cut taxes in Louisiana and will cut them more in Washington.

He says the budget deal making its way through Congress is “a very bad deal.”

Jindal was the first candidate to rail against the bipartisan deal at the GOP undercard debate — just hours after it passed the Republican-led House.

Asked if he’d rather see the government shut down, Jindal says that’s a “false choice.” He says the deal includes the promise of budget cuts down the road, but “tomorrow never seems to happen.”

New York Gov. George Pataki and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham say they would back the deal.

Graham says he’s focused solely on military spending, asking, “Will it restore our ability to defend this nation?”

The bipartisan deal calls for approximately $112 billion in additional spending over two years, with about $80 billion offset by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Donald Trump is complaining about the fairness of Wednesday night’s main debate before it even begins.

Trump said on Twitter Wednesday morning that he’s “looking forward to what I am sure will be a very unfair debate!”

He’s also accusing CNBC, the network hosting the debate, of reporting on “fictitious” poll numbers — that don’t happen to favor him.

A handful of opinion surveys in early-voting Iowa and one national poll now show Trump in second place behind retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

Trump has complained repeatedly about the two previous debates, taking issue with the moderators’ questioning and how long they stretched.

He and Carson wrote a joint letter to CNBC threatening to boycott the debate unless the network limited it to two hours and allowed candidates to make opening and closing statements. The network agreed to the demands.