Republican Party presidential hopefuls turned up the heat on the front runner Donald Trump, tearing into the property mogul who appeared mostly unfazed during their second televised debate on Wednesday night.
Mr Trump was called "sophomoric" - or juvenile - and referred to as "an apprentice", in reference to a reality TV show he hosted until this June, over the course of the three-hour long event hosted by news broadcaster CNN at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
This was a sharp turnaround from the first debate in August, when Republican candidates held back on their criticism of Mr Trump, hoping he would self-implode. Instead, Mr Trump rose to the top of the polls, and now leads nationally with 30.5 per cent support, according to an aggregate by political website Real Clear Politics.
Eleven candidates were involved in the main debate and four others in an earlier one on Wednesday.
"Everybody went after Trump and he liked it, it kept him talking," said professor of communication Allan Louden of Wake Forest University, an expert on political campaigns.
The first question of the night, in fact, was whether candidates were comfortable having Mr Trump in charge of the country's nuclear codes, to which Senator Rand Paul said he was "concerned", highlighting Mr Trump's "visceral response to attack people on their appearance" as rash and immature.
"Would we not all be worried to have someone like that in charge of the nuclear arsenal?" he asked.
To which Mr Trump responded: "I never attacked him on his look, and believe me, there's plenty of subject matter right there."
The jousting on the issue of looks continued when former Hewlett- Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina was asked to comment on Mr Trump's remarks about her in Rolling Stone magazine, where he said: "Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?"
Mrs Fiorina kept her answer short and sweet saying: "I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr Trump said." The applause she received for that comment was one of the loudest of the night.
She also challenged Mr Trump's track record as a businessman, citing his deals in Atlantic City: "You ran up mountains of debt, as well as losses, using other people's money... why should we trust you to manage the finances of this nation."
Experts and news reports singled out her performance as the standout of the night.
Mr Aaron Kall, director of the University of Michigan's debate programme and Debate Institute, said Mrs Fiorina delivered a "solid and steady performance" and would likely experience a "well-deserved boost in the polls".
Mrs Fiorina is currently tied for the seventh spot with 3.3 per cent, according to Real Clear Politics.
A poll by Boston news station WBUR that had Mr Trump, Mrs Fiorina and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson in the top three positions has left some party insiders worried, given doubts over their electability.
When it came to foreign policy issues involving the Iran nuclear deal, and relations with Russia and China, Mr Trump continued to struggle.
"His responses lacked specifics and he sheepishly promised the audience that his administration would be up to speed when the time is right," observed Mr Kall.
Senator Marco Rubio, however, showed his keen grasp of foreign policy, rattling off the challenges the US faces with regard to a nuclearised North Korea, Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, radical Islamic militants and "a horrible nuclear deal with Iran".
Some experts expect this debate and others lined up will help narrow the larger than usual field of Republican candidates.
"Candidates like Rand Paul, Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee did little to justify their continued presence in the race and it's only a matter of time until the field shrinks," said Mr Kall.