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GOP Spin Room Finds Less To Criticize In Latest Presidential Debate

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The Republican candidates met onstage in Milwaukee last night. Unlike the last presidential debate hosted by CNBC, there were few complaints this time about the moderator or their questions. NPR's Don Gonyea was in the spin room after last night's event, which was sponsored by the Fox Business Network and The Wall Street Journal.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Before the debate, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus warmed up the crowd at the historic Milwaukee Theatre.

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REINCE PRIEBUS: Are you ready to have a great debate tonight?

GONYEA: Then, his very next words...

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PRIEBUS: Are you ready to get the last debate behind us, like I am?

GONYEA: There were the usual back-to-back debates last night, an early one featuring low polling candidates and then the primetime event. After each, candidates or their surrogates trekked to the spin room to meet the media. Mike DuHaime is a strategist for Chris Christie who made it clear the New Jersey Governor is always ready to debate and had no problem with the last one.

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MIKE DUHAIME: Listen, if you can't handle the moderators in these debates, like, you shouldn't run for president. I mean, you shouldn't run for student council if you can't handle the moderators. I mean, all the complaints about everything - like, enough's enough about the complaining. I mean...

GONYEA: But Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal did grumble about one question from last night. He was in the early debate, where the GOP hopefuls were asked which Democrat they most admire.

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BOBBY JINDAL: I thought it was a silly question to ask us who our favorite Democrat was. That's why I said so. And I said that instead of wasting time with that, why don't we talk about the issues that matter? Let's fire them all in D.C. I...

GONYEA: The second debate had no such questions. Afterward, Jeb Bush's campaign manager, Danny Diaz, was on message. Bush did well, he said, and...

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DANNY DIAZ: I think tonight's debate was a serious one where important issues were discussed. As we've said, we appreciate the opportunity to engage in the discussion.

GONYEA: Ben Carson, now at the top of the polls along with Donald Trump, came to the spin room. He offered his review and a piece of technical advice to keep candidates from talking over one another.

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BEN CARSON: I thought the questions were fair. The only thing I think that could improve the situation is if the moderators had a little button to turn people's microphones off (laughter).

GONYEA: But Carson was still complaining about what he sees as unfair treatment by the media questioning the accuracy of his life story. During the debate, Carson was asked about his background but was not pressed. He then turned the question into an attack on the honesty of Hillary Clinton. Republican Party officials said this debate can serve as a model for future events, while moderator Neil Cavuto of the Fox Business Network ended the evening with a note of self-congratulation for the panel of questioners.

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NEIL CAVUTO: By all means, it was a very riveting debate. Business issues can be - can be riveting because it wasn't about us. It's about them.

GONYEA: And with that one final jab at the CNBC debate, this one was in the books. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.