Making their final nationally televised pitches before Iowans cast the first presidential votes of the 2016 campaign on Monday, the four GOP candidates in the undercard debate came out swinging - against the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton, radical Islam, and the media.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, winner of the Iowa caucuses in 2008, was asked why his message wasn't "working this time," and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who won the caucuses in 2012, was asked "is Monday night your last stand?"
Both shook off the questions, but it set the early tone for the hour-long debate featuring Huckabee, Santorum, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.
Gilmore made his first appearance in a GOP debate since August. His first question, from moderator Bill Hemmer, took aim at Gilmore's almost non-existent Iowa campaign.
"Why should anyone caucus for you on Monday night?" Hemmer asked. In response, Gilmore said that he had been in Iowa, but that "this is not the place where I'm choosing to begin my campaign."
Gilmore said his focus was on the next state to cast its votes: New Hampshire.
"I am beginning my campaign in New Hampshire and I decided to do that based upon the process that is in place in Iowa and the primary that's in place in New Hampshire," he said.
Gilmore would later turn his attention to the media, saying "there are powerful forces at this point that are really controlling our lives. And that's why people are so angry.
"One of those is government," he said, "but the biggest one is the organized establishment media."
Gilmore charged that the "media across the country is manipulating and shaping and framing this campaign and has been for at least a year now in order to get the kind of choices that people are going to have an opportunity to see."
Gilmore said that "when I'm president, it's going to change."
It was a theme Fiorina picked up on later in the debate, after Hemmer had asked Santorum why he did not make a personal appearance at the annual March for Life protest in Washington, D.C. last weekend.
Fiorina said it was "outrageous" of Fox News to "question the pro-life credentials" of Santorum, who has been a prominent pro-life champion for 25 years.
She also took swings at Hillary Clinton, saying the former First Lady should be in jail for the email scandal that has dogged her campaign. The one-time California Senate candidate also said that if her husband had acted in the same manner as Bill Clinton, Fiorinia would have left him "a long time ago."
The candidates also touched on the absence of Donald Trump in the main debate scheduled for later Thursday night. Trump refused to participate in that debate, preferring instead to host a fundraiser to benefit veterans at Drake University.
Both Santorum and Huckabee said they would attend the event. Gilmore, who said he was the only candidate running who has served in the armed forces, refused to do so, saying he "was not about to go across town and carry the coat of some billionaire."