Fireworks, laughs, and controversy during GOP debate

Mark Meredith, National Correspondent – WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) - The first Republican Presidential debate of 2016 provided plenty of interesting moments. However, the question remains whether or not the seven candidates on stage will be able to shift the polls heading into the first election contests.

The topics ranged widely from gun control to a Hillary Clinton administration - but five of the men on stage are hoping their performance could catapult them ahead of front runners Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Trump stays the course

"Yes, I am angry!" @realDonaldTrump said he is angry because the country is a mess. Do you agree with him? https://t.co/mf9ZiRGBLJ

— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) January 15, 2016

"Oh I'm very angry," said Donald Trump in regards to the direction the country is heading. During Thursday's debate, the billionaire businessman followed a strategy that's kept him ahead in the polls for several months. Mr. Trump's lead has grown stronger just as the GOP field has shrank with departures of former candidates like former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. During the debate however, Trump was even forced to confront boos from the audience in North Charleston, South Carolina

Guns, do you stick to them?

.@marcorubio on guns: "The Second Amendment is not an option. It is not a suggestion. It's a Constitutional right." https://t.co/3hAOIgq9o7

— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) January 15, 2016

A week to the day after President Obama participated in a televised town hall to urge Americans to support gun reform, the GOP candidates spent several minutes eager to defend the rights of gun owners. Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, and Sen. Marco Rubio were asked what reforms are needed, if any. The candidates were quick to point out recent tragedies, including the December massacre in California, would not have been prevented if stricter background checks had been on the books.

"This President, every chance he has gotten, has tried to undermine the second amendment," said Sen. Marco Rubio during the FOX Business Debate.

Cruz not on cruise control

.@tedcruz attacked @realDonaldTrump when responding to talk that he isn't eligible to run for president. #GOPDebate https://t.co/HZSMWTwI4b

— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) January 15, 2016

The front runner in Iowa, the first state to vote, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz decided to use Thursday's debate as a chance to put controversy over his birth record to rest. In the last two weeks, Donald Trump has alleged Sen. Cruz would be ineligible to run the country because he was born in Canada to American parents. The issue, which some analysts have dismissed as weak at best, was addressed head on with Mr. Cruz reiterating he's not worried about his eligibility to hold the highest office in the land.

"We can't give Hillary Clinton a third term"

.@ChrisChristie on #SOTU: "Tuesday night I watched story time with @BarackObama." #GOPDebate https://t.co/59Nt32a8iF

— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) January 15, 2016

The candidates spent much of Thursday night preparing to battle Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Throughout the night, Mrs. Clinton was seen as the likely nominee and faced several criticisms including one from Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey who pleaded with audience to see a Clinton administration as a third term of the current Obama administration. "Hillary Clinton cannot be President; it'll lead to great war," added Gov. Christie during the second hour of the debate.

Iran: the story of the week

.@tedcruz opened the #GOPDebate with strong words about the president's reaction to Iran detaining 10 U.S. sailors. https://t.co/zGbHtCRvmA

— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) January 15, 2016

While President Obama's State of the Union dominated the news cycle, it was the temporary arrest of ten U.S. sailors by the Iranian government that led Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to promise his administration would never allow a similar situation. The moderators also heavily focused on what immigration policies the candidates could implement, if elected. The proposal by the Trump campaign to ban all Muslims from immigrating to the United States was met with criticism by fellow GOP candidates - especially former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush who called Mr. Trump's idea a sign he's "unhinged".

Not much time left

There is only one more GOP debate scheduled before the Iowa caucus on February 1st. The next debate is scheduled for January 28th in Des Moines, Iowa and will air on the FOX News channel.

For the latest in the race for the White House, follow @markpmeredith, @alexschuman, @chanceseales on Twitter