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Republican debate winners and losers

Republican presidential candidates took the debate stage for the first time since terrorist attacks in Paris and California, and GOP hopefuls aimed to assure voters early and often that they stood best equipped to fight the so-called Islamic State.

Most of the 13 candidates at CNN's two Las Vegas debates Tuesday night argued for more military resources. Some stressed the importance of embracing rather than alienating Muslims around the globe.

With most of the attention fixed on front runner Donald Trump and the U.S. senators nipping at his heels, many candidates looked to establish themselves as foreign policy hawks. Here are some of the highlights:

The winners

Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (R)speaks as Donald Trumplistens during the CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (R)speaks as Donald Trumplistens during the CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Cruz and Trump's stalemate

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and the real estate mogul have so far tiptoed around public attacks on one another, but they seemed more likely to collide after Cruz gained traction in recent polling, both nationally and in Iowa. But Cruz skirted a direct invitation to question Trump's judgment, and joked about making Trump personally pay for a border wall, the businessman's often-criticized policy proposal.

Trump found a sparring partner in former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who told the mogul he could not "insult" his way to the presidency. The two had heated exchanges about Trump's controversial plan to temporarily bar foreign Muslims entry to the United States. They also clashed over their ability to negotiate with foreign leaders.

Bush lashed out at Trump, saying: "Donald is great at the one-liners, but he is a chaos candidate and he would be a chaos president."

Trump and Cruz largely limited their attacks to the so-called "establishment" candidates, like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

Surging senators

Cruz and Rubio have nudged their way toward the front of the polling pack, and controlled much of the conversation Tuesday night. They traded barbs on the expiration of the National Security Agency's legal authority to collect bulk phone data. Rubio supports a renewal of the program.

"We are now at a time when we need more tools, not less tools," he argued.

They also clashed on immigration reform, an issue on which Rubio has taken a more moderate stance than Cruz.

Rubio in particular faced a string of attacks, and largely held his ground.

U.S. military budget

In both the first and second debates, candidates repeatedly pushed for more military funding.

"We need to focus on building a military that is second to none," Bush said.

Criticism largely surrounded cuts to funding during the Obama administration.

The losers

Ben Carson

The retired neurosurgeon skidded in national polls in recent weeks, partly due to concerns about his understanding of foreign policy. He may not have assured voters of his national security chops Tuesday night.

Carson complained after receiving his first question by the time other candidates had issued multiple responses. He then avoided a follow-up question on Cruz and Rubio's NSA discussion and largely faded into the background for the rest of the night.

"I don't want to get in between them," he said of the senators.

Issues other than terrorism

The debate focused heavily on terrorism and efforts to prevent attacks on American soil, including changes to immigration or encryption policies.