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Viewers of Wednesday’s Republican debate thought Ron DeSantis came across as ‘strong’ while rival Nikki Haley was ‘smart’ but weak, according to an exclusive poll for DailyMail.com.

The two went head-to-head in a slugfest days before Republicans in Iowa pick their favored 2024 candidate.

Viewers declared the Florida governor to be the clear winner of the two-hour debate, as he battles Haley to be the top challenger to frontrunner Donald Trump.

When asked what they thought of his performance, the main responses were: Strong, smart, boring, presidential and leader.

That will be a welcome boost to a campaign that needs a good result in the Iowa caucuses in order to fight on to New Hampshire‘s primary later in the month.

Republican debate viewers say DeSantis was STRONG while Haley was SMART but WEAK

Ron DeSantis’s word cloud from Wednesday night’s debate suggests viewers found him ‘strong.’ J.L. Partners asked 453 respondents for their thoughts on each candidate

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

DeSantis appeared on stage with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. He came out swinging as he looks for a strong result in Monday’s Iowa caucuses

Haley, the former South Carolina governor, has been building momentum but performed less well, at least according to the survey conducted by J.L. Partners.

But her word cloud contained terms that will offer some encouragement. Apart from ‘weak,’ the terms included: Smart, awesome, intelligent, and boring.

James Johnson, co-founder of J.L. Partners, said voters were clear on the qualities they wanted in the Republican nominee to go up against President Joe Biden.

‘In 2024 the attribute primary voters are looking for in their candidate is strength,’ he said. 

‘It is one of the reasons Trump is leading. Haley might seem competent and on top of her brief, but voters do not see her as strong.’

J.L. Partners ran an online poll for two hours after the debate ended on Wednesday night.

Of 453 respondents, some 55 percent said the Florida governor won the debate, while 31 percent said his rival performed better. 

That left 14 percent saying they did not have an opinion.

Respondents were also given a string of qualities and asked which candidate best reflected the attributes.

There are mixed messages for Haley in her word cloud

There are mixed messages for Haley in her word cloud

Viewers declare Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis the winner of Wednesday night's debate with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Halley in our snap poll

Viewers declare Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis the winner of Wednesday night’s debate with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Halley in our snap poll

DeSantis won on ‘most competent,’ ‘strongest,’ ‘most presidential,’ and ‘best to go up against Donald Trump,’ all by margins of about 18 percent.

In contrast, Haley was judged ‘weakest,’ ‘most annoying,’ and ‘most boring’ by similar margins.

DeSantis faced the highest stakes coming into the night.

After being hailed as a bright star in the Republican Party, a botched campaign launch set the tone for a stuttering run. At times internal feuding overshadowed his efforts to win over voters.

He poured resources into Iowa, hoping its conservative population would give him a strong showing.

Haley, in contrast, is focused more on New Hampshire, which makes it choice later in January. Her supporters are also confident she will benefit most from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dropping out on Wednesday.

DeSantis’ urgency was on clear display on the stage at Drake University, in Des Moines.

The first question invited him to take a swing at former President Trump. DeSantis pivoted quickly to attack Haley as a ‘mealy mouthed’ politician only interested in representing her donors’ interests. 

DeSantis came out punching and kept it up until the end of the evening

DeSantis came out punching and kept it up until the end of the evening 

He hammered her again and again for flip flopping, and tried to use her foreign policy experience against her, painting her as a globalist keen on spending American money on other people’s problems. 

‘You can take the ambassador out of the United Nations, but you can’t take the United Nations out of the ambassador,’ he said.

Pollster Frank Luntz posted: ‘If DeSantis had been this good in the first primary debates, he’d be in a much stronger position today. I’ve been critical of him, but he’s on fire tonight.’ 

But Haley’s supporters said DeSantis had the bigger challenge and failed to pull it off. 

‘I think it’s not so much what she needed to do,’ said Eric Levine, a Haley donor. ‘It’s what DeSantis needed to do, because his campaign is on life support. 

‘He needed to come out ahead of her period. And he did nothing to change that dynamic. 



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