The debate hall is seen prior to the Republican presidential debate Thursday in Cleveland. Seven Republican candidates who didn't qualify for the main debate squared off early Thursday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
CLEVELAND, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- Early in the evening Thursday, seven Republican presidential contenders who didn't qualify for a later, prime-time debate went head-to-head, taking aim at Hillary Clinton and promising a better economy and an end to President Obama's executive orders.
The candidates gathered in Cleveland for a Fox News debate, the so-called "happy hour debate." On stage were former Hewlett Packard executive Carly Fiorina, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
There was little in the way of personal jabs against fellow candidates on the stage, but a couple had a few choice words to say about fellow GOP contender Donald Trump -- and everyone had a lot to say about Obama and Clinton.
When asked about the "elephant that is not in the room," of Trump, Fiorina took issue with recent speculation about the businessman's association with Clinton and former President Bill Clinton.
"I didn't get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped in the race," she said. "Did any of you get a phone call from Bill Clinton? I didn't. Maybe it's because I hadn't given money to the foundation or donated to his wife's senate campaign."
But she gave kudos to Trump for tapping "into an anger people feel ... sick of politics as usual." In her closing statement, she touted her background as a businesswoman, saying she's "not a member of the political class."
Perry said the reason for Trump's recent success in the polls -- he leads the rest of the GOP field with 26 percent in a Fox News poll -- was his celebrity.
"I've had my issues with Donald Trump," Perry said. "I talked about Donald Trump from the standpoint of being an individual who was using his celebrity rather than his conservatism. How can you run for the Republican nomination and be for single payer health care?"
The majority of Thursday's early debate, though, was spent discussing how the candidates intend to reverse legislation and executive orders supported by the outgoing Democratic president. A number of them said on Day 1 in the oval office, they plan to rip up all of Obama's executive orders.
Perry said he wants more emphasis placed on securing the southern border with Mexico, while Jindal and Pataki said they both disagree with states accepting Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Graham again called for troops on the ground in Syria and Iraq to fight the Islamic State.
"If we don't stop them over there, they will come over here as sure as I stand here in front of you," he said, adding that anyone who doesn't understand that is "not fit to be commander-in-chief.
Republican candidates also took issue with recent Supreme Court rulings. Some said that just because a recent ruling said a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, doesn't mean it's a law that has to stand.
"The Supreme Court should be following the law, not making the law up," Gilmore said, while Santorum called the current group of justices "rogue."
On immigration, Perry said his 14 years experience as governor of Texas makes him the candidate best suited to secure the border, while Jindal pushed for immigrants to assimilate.
"Immigration without assimilation is an invasion," he said.
On economic matters, Santorum proposed rebuilding the United States' manufacturing sector to create more jobs, and Pataki said he would focus on eliminating dependency on welfare programs.
Toward the end of the debate, the Republicans were asked to describe Clinton in just two words. While only Jindal and Santorum followed the rules and stuck to two words, a common theme centered around trust.
-- Pataki: "Divisive with no vision at all."
-- Fiorina: "Not trustworthy, no accomplishment."
-- Santorum: "Secretive and untrustworthy"
-- Perry: "Let's go with three. Good at email."
-- Jindal: "Socialist and government-dependent."
-- Graham: "Not the change we need at the time we don't need it."
-- Gilmore: "Professional politician that can't be trusted."
Thursday's early debate will be followed by a second GOP debate at 9 p.m. EDT on Fox News. The contenders involved in the later event are Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.