They jabbed on Social Security. They punched harder on jobs. And they danced politely around Tea Party loyalty.
The eight candidates looking for votes Wednesday night at the Republican Presidential debate in Simi Valley tried to stand out, without looking desperate.
The debate, co-sponsored by NBC News and Politico, is the first of three in as many weeks. The candidates are well aware that their ability to raise money and remain viable is on the line.
The actual positioning of the candidates, with former front runner Mitt Romney and current front runner Rick Perry next to each other, created some natural tension and good camera shots.
"Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt," jabbed Perry, dredging up a failed Democratic Presidential Nominee and reminding voters of their common bond as former Massachusetts governors.
"As a matter of fact, George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did," shot back Romney, creating his own neat coupling between Perry and an unpopular former President.
This was the first Presidential debate for Texas Governor Perry, and his opponents didn't let him off lightly, chastising him for his stand on global warming (he called it "nonsense") and his decision to implement mandatory HPV inoculations for school age girls in Texas. Perry says he wishes now he had consulted the State Legislature on that one.
Local news from across Southern California
But Perry deflected the attacks with a calm demeanor, throwing in a joke or two.
"I kind of feel like the pinata at the party," he said.