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By James Oliphant and Tim Reid
WASHINGTON, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Four U.S. presidential contenders - the smallest field yet - debated in Alabama on Wednesday, all trying to survive to battle former President Donald Trump next year for the Republican nomination.
Here is a takeaway from the fourth Republican presidential debate:
HALEY IN THE BARREL
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley isn’t leading the Republican pack. That position belongs to Trump, who once again skipped the debate.
But in a nod to the momentum Haley has been building over the last several weeks, she was immediately targeted in the first moments of the debate by her rivals on stage, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
Without being prompted, DeSantis accused Haley of not supporting a ban on gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth, something she denied. Ramaswamy hit Haley on her support from Wall Street donors and her time on the board of Boeing Co. “It adds up to the fact that you are corrupt,” he said.
Haley defended her work for Boeing and then mocked her rivals.
"In terms of these donors that are supporting me, they're just jealous,” Haley said. “They wish that they were supporting them." The crowd inside the auditorium roared.
After DeSantis and Ramaswamy continued to pile on, she smiled and said, “I love all the attention fellas, thank you for that."
DeSantis’ criticism, in particular, was a clear sign that he views Haley as an emerging threat to his goal to be the last candidate standing along with Trump after the Republican nominating contests begin next month. Haley now is essentially tied with DeSantis in Iowa and ahead of him in New Hampshire, the first two voting states of the primary.
(Reporting by James Oliphant and Tim Reid Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Deepa Babington)