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Who won the third Republican debate? Winners and losers after things got nasty in Miami

In a fiery third GOP presidential primary debate, a narrowing field of candidates launched aggressive attacks against one another on everything from their policy stances to personal lives, all while trying to stand out against a candidate not on the stage: former President Donald Trump.

More than half of the two-hour long debate focused exclusively on candidates foreign policy views, from how they would handle the crisis in Israel and Gaza to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

And one candidate in particular plowed ahead of the field on the issue, Republican strategists said. That's Nikki Haley.

Here is a look at where Haley soared, along with other possible winners and losers of the debate.

Nikki Haley lands foreign policy discussions

Former South Carolina Gov. Haley fended off repeated foreign policy attacks from biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis throughout the two-hour long conversation, using their jabs to emphasize where she stands apart from other candidates on Russia and China.

In particular, Haley has diverged from DeSantis and Ramaswamy in supporting U.S. aid to Ukraine in its fight against Russia, and she made that clear Wednesday night.

"We all remember what that thug did when he invaded Ukraine," Haley said, referring to Russian leader Vladimir Putin's initial attack on the country. "Half a million people have died because of Putin ... I think we should give them the equipment, the ammunition to win."

Her ability to strongly articulate her policy points in the face of attacks — including a strike from Ramaswamy about her daughter’s use of TikTok — made her a clear winner in the eyes of GOP strategists.

"Haley is three for three on very good debate performances," Rob Stutzman, a longtime Republican operative said of her approach on the Miami stage. "DeSantis and Ramaswamy tried to land blows but she slipped the jabs and counterpunched well."

Brendan Steinhauser, who has led campaigns for numerous high profile congressional Republicans, including Sen. John Cornyn most recently, agreed.

"Even if GOP voters don't agree with her on every issue, they see her as strong, confident and substantive," he said after the debate. "She helped her candidacy tonight with her performance."

Riding a wave of momentum from her second debate performance, Nikki Haley has emerged in recent weeks as the likely top alternative to Trump, narrowly edging out DeSantis in some polls.

The former South Carolina governor shot up to 11% among registered voters who plan to vote in the GOP race after being at 4% in the USA TODAY/Suffolk poll taken in June. She's now just 1 percentage point behind the Florida governor, who tumbled from his 23% support four months ago.

DeSantis comes out strongly against Trump

DeSantis made some of his strongest rebukes of Trump yet during Wednesday's debate, going so far as to target the former president for Republicans' string of losses in recent elections.

"He said Republicans were gonna get tired of winning. What we saw last night -- I'm sick of Republicans losing," DeSantis said during opening remarks at the debate.

Republicans last night lost control of both chambers of the Virginia State legislature and failed to takeover the Kentucky governor's seat.

Those were the real loses of the week, DeSantis told voters. He argued that, as the party's nominee, he would end the GOP losing streak and noted his "landslide victory" in Florida's midterm elections.

Once thought of as the party’s inevitable nominee, DeSantis has struggled to hold onto a second place in the race against Haley.

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Tim Scott attempts to cut through the noise

If anyone on the Miami stage needed a moment to shine, it was South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott who narrowly qualified for the debate. And although Scott commanded more time on the stage than he has in the past, the three-term senator failed to break ground against frontrunners like Haley and DeSantis.

"He had a good night," GOP strategist Rob Stutzman said. "But so did the candidates ahead of him."

Scott attempted to stand out from his competitors with a message focused on faith that he threaded throughout the conversation. When addressing growing divisions in the U.S. over the war in Israel, for instance, the bible-belt politician said federal funding for universities and visas for foreign students should be revoked if they do not show sufficient support for Israel.

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Without a singular shinning moment, however, Wednesday’s debate could have been one of Scott’s last chance a to make an impression on voters and donors alike. Qualifications for the next RNC debate, scheduled for Dec. 6 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., are even more strict.

To make the podium, candidates need to receive 6% support in at least two polls and 80,000 unique donors from 20 or more states, among other requirements.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who won tonight's debate? Which Republican candidates came out on top