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The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard exploded out of the pack with a fiery performance in the so-called "kids' table debate"

Dark horse

Carly Fiorina shines at ‘happy hour’ GOP debate before the main event

By Andrew Tavani on August 7, 2015

Facing an uphill battle, Carly Fiorina was barely registering in national polls heading into Thursday’s inaugural 2016 GOP primary debate and was relegated, along with Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, and Jim Gilmore, to what became known as the “happy hour debate” or “kids’ table debate.”

But Fiorina emerged from that undercard event the clear winner and could have vaulted herself into the top 10 for the next debate on CNN in September. She was roundly praised by many conservatives after her performance in the debate, and former House Speaker and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich posted in a message on Twitter that Fox News “should invite carly fiorina back for the 9 oclock debate.”

Fiorina came out firing against the Clintons and Donald Trump, the incendiary real estate mogul and reality TV star who’s been dominating polls and media attention since launching his improbable campaign in mid-June. “I didn’t get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped in the race,” she said, referring to a story about the former president having placed a private call to Trump in the weeks before he declared his candidacy, reportedly to stoke the mogul’s political ambitions. “Any of you get a phone call from Bill Clinton?” Fiorina asked her debate rivals. “I didn’t. Maybe it’s because I haven’t given money to the foundation or donated to his wife’s Senate campaign.”

Her strategy to attack Trump head on appears to have worked, and her positions on the Iran nuclear deal, immigration and her status as a Washington outsider also resonated, experts said, according to CNBC. A flash poll by Fox News just after the debate showed a whopping 83 percent of viewers thought she won.

Indeed, more comprehensive data released by Google showed that Fiorina made a huge impression on those watching.

The graphic below shows that Fiorina was the most searched candidate on Google almost throughout the entire duration of the happy hour debate, briefly dipping down to second place just twice.

Even more interesting is how she gave Donald Trump a run for his money in terms of Google searches throughout the happy hour debate and for almost an hour into the main event. They were neck-and-neck for about the first 50 minutes of the debate.

Will Fiorina be able to maintain her momentum? It’s a big question, but she did keep it going as a guest on morning news shows on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC on Friday.