Who won the second GOP debate? Five top communicators pick

It's a split decision, with unanimous agreement that Carly Fiorina performed well.

"Carly Fiorina by Gage Skidmore 2" by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carly_Fiorina_by_Gage_Skidmore_2.jpg#/media/File:Carly_Fiorina_by_Gage_Skidmore_2.jpg

The Reagan National Library in Simi Valley, California, played host on Wednesday night to the second Republican presidential debate of the 2016 primary season (still more than a year before the general election).

PRWeek asked a handful of top communicators who they thought won the night. They responded with overwhelming praise for the candidate who was bumped up from the JV squad.

Ann Davison, chair of the US public affairs and crisis practice at Burson-Marsteller
Carly Fiorina displayed qualities voters admire.

She was confident but not cocky, passionate but not petty, and smart but not stiff. The question is no longer can she effectively demonstrate a compelling leadership style but can she build the grassroots army it takes to get supporters to the primary polls.

Howard Opinsky,EVP at Hill+Knowlton Strategies and head of the US East region and the corporate practice
The debate winner may be any Republican voter who watched the full three-hour marathon.

Among the candidates, Carly Fiorina stood out last night. She proved that not only should she be in the debate, but she's more than a pretty face (despite what Donald Trump may think). Fiorina showed she can give as well as she takes and was a striking contrast to the other non-politicians on the stage.

Fiorina was the business leader on stage who had details and compassion that matched her vigor and showmanship. Her poll numbers and fundraising are sure to get another boost.

Christie also had a good night. Who would've thought that he’d be one of the nice guys in this race? He backed up his passion and combative style with a forceful description of policy details and his compelling record.

Rubio also stood out for his soaring and hopeful rhetoric – a refreshing change from the anger and doom offered by many of the others on stage. 

Matt Canter, SVP at Global Strategy Group
The winner: Jake Tapper 

He had the hardest job to do, and unlike all the candidates on the stage, he didn't even break a sweat. Tapper was energetic, aggressive, and showed Fox News how it's done. He was able to keep the mindless Obama criticism and numbing Reagan love to a minimum by asking better questions, devoting more time to more issues, and fostering real, substantive policy debate between the candidates. 

As far as the candidates go, [the winner was] Carly Fiorina. She had the most to gain, and she seized the opportunity. She was the most adept at standing up to Trump, particularly when responding to Trump's comments about her face. But her biggest moment came when she made a passionate plea to shut down the government, while in contrast, the politicians such as Walker, Christie, and Bush danced around and avoided the question. The potential shutdown would be a disaster for the party, but it was a boon for her candidacy last night. 

Bill McIntyre, director of Ketchum’s Washington, DC, office
Everybody but The Donald won.

CNN's debate format helped the pros distinguish themselves and trumped the Don, who was blustering, deflecting, and generalizing. Bush and Fiorina were refreshing runners up. Look for their numbers to climb and The Donald's to slip.

Chris Messina-Boyer, senior partner at Finn Partners
The winner: Senator Marco Rubio.

The youngest candidate on the stage was the most grown up. When the others were acting like children, he was earnest, refused to join in the name calling, and proved his grasp of the issues. 

The loser: education. How can there be a three-hour-plus debate with nothing on education, and very little on health care?

This story was updated on September 17 to correct Howard Opinsky's title.

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