New Hampshire Republican forum: Top 5 takeaways

Moments from the Voters First Forum
trump surges in new polls ahead of debate Jones pkg Newday _00001221


    Moments from the Voters First Forum


Moments from the Voters First Forum 02:49

Story highlights

  • There are so, many, Republicans running for president
  • Frontrunner Jeb Bush is supremely confident and in command of the issues, except for his family

Washington (CNN)Republican presidential candidates packed the stage at St. Anselm's College in New Hampshire on Monday as 14 of the 17 declared GOP candidates gathered just days ahead of the first debate of the primary season.

Voters got a rapid-fire survey of the field where some candidates took advantage of the short spotlight and others were thankful their time on stage was short. Here's what we learned:

Jeb struggles with the family name

    Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has a command of policy and politics with sharp, concise answers -- from immigration to ISIS -- with the stark exception of his family's legacy. With just a few minutes left in the forum, he fielded a question about how he would differentiate himself from the last two Bush presidents, his father and brother.
    He got a few laughs with some measured snark, "My dad is probably the most perfect man alive, so it's very hard for me to be critical of him."
    But then he appeared to have second thoughts and, awkwardly, pulled back "In fact I got a T-Shirt at the, ah, Jeb swag store that says, ah, um, 'My dad's the greatest man alive. If you don't like it, I'll take you outside.'"

    It's less fun without Trump

    When Donald Trump's out of the game, stale, political jokes are the best entertainment available. In the absence of The Donald on Monday night, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham got the biggest laughs with a dated dig at the Clintons and the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
    If Trump has spent one month now taking the polite out of politics -- announcing Graham's cell phone number, questioning Sen. John McCain's war credentials, and accusing Bush, the frontrunner du jour, of being unable to negotiate their way out of hypothetical paper bags -- 14 Republicans restored it, clearly.
    Trump skipped the forum because of a tiff with one of the sponsors, the New Hampshire Union Leader. He is, however, poised to be a significant presence at Thursday's debate.

    Carly Fiorina got in the best line on Clinton

    The only woman of the GOP field, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, delivered one of the most attention-grabbing lines of the night, clearly targeting Hillary Clinton while making her case.
    "Here's the thing, in order to beat Hillary Clinton, or whoever their nominee turns out to be, we have to have a nominee on our side who is going to throw every punch because this is a fight. It's a fight for the future of this nation, it's a fight for the character of this nation and, unfortunately we know that sometimes the right questions don't get asked in a presidential debate," Fiorina said.
    Fiorina, however, has struggled to gain much recognition among Republican primary voters, toiling in the back of the pack in every major poll.

    It's hard to get a read on someone during a speed date

    For a two-hour forum, it sure felt hurried. The candidates were rushed through four-minute question and answer sessions at the beginning and brief wrap-ups in the second hour. Those at the back of the pack whipped through their campaign pitches, perhaps sensing the isolation of being shut out of Thursday's debate.
    Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who might not poll well enough to qualify for Thursday's attempted to jam a 14-year record as governor into his opening. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, meanwhile, spat out his campaign message of unifying Republicans.
    The trio of senators in the middle of the pack -- Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul -- meanwhile appeared from Washington following a critical vote on defunding Planned Parenthood. Rubio attempted the nearly impossible, cramming his three-part immigration policy into his four-minute opening.

    It's a big field

    Really big. Monday night gave the best visual of just how many Republicans are running, and that was only 11 of the 17 announced, "big name" candidates. As they lined up on stage at the beginning of the former and current governors, one neurosurgeon and one tech executive packed in shoulder to shoulder.
    Suddenly, 10 on stage for Thursday looks a lot roomier.