But the candidates' positions also elicited responses from the crowd, with comments from former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and real estate mogul Donald Trump earning big cheers.
Yet student reviews at the end up the night came in decidedly mixed — with nearly every single candidate participating in the primetime debate garnering at least one vote of confidence.
"I liked (Florida Sen. Marco) Rubio a lot — the entire time he was on point," freshman Cherie Salazer said as she exited the ballroom.
Brandon Inbau, a junior sporting a Reagan t-shirt, said after the debate that his favored candidate was Fiorina, although he added he thought that Cruz, Rubio and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had performed well.
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Another junior, Ashley Hatfield, said retired surgeon Ben Carson was her front-runner after the candidates squared off.
"There's a difference between being smart and being wise, and I think Ben Carson is wise," she said.
Other students listed Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Trump as the candidates whose debate performances most impressed them.
"Trump is actually smarter than I thought he was," freshman Dan Oster said as he exited the watch party. Still, he added, Democratic Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is his favorite candidate running.