MILWAUKEE — The first Republican primary debate is now in the books, which gave voters their first opportunity to weigh in after seeing most of the candidates side by side.

“I walked into this in favor of DeSantis, and I was looking to see if he was going to do anything stupid like Rick Perry had done from Texas a few years back,” Ken Brown, a former chair of the Republican Party of Racine County, said.

Brown said he has already picked his top four.

“Vivek stays, DeSantis stays, Nikki stays, this is where it gets tough, I like Tim Scott, and I was also impressed with Doug Burgum who I’ve never really seen before, but he was also spot on his message,” Brown explained. “If I could have five, I would keep them both, but if one’s got to go, I’m sorry Tim, I think I got to let you go.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence talks with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a break at a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by FOX News Channel Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who tightened the gap with former President Donald Trump in Wisconsin, according to the latest Marquette University Law School poll, had plenty of favorable reviews.

“Ron DeSantis definitely stood out tonight in my eyes, as well as Nikki Haley,” State Sen. Jesse James, R-Altoona, said. “I think them were the top two in my eyes. I think Vivek came out strong, and then something just happened at the end where the boos started coming. He kind of lost the momentum.”

However, it was former ambassador Nikki Haley’s name that came up again and again from those Spectrum News spoke with.

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by FOX News Channel Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

“She really proved that she is a powerhouse,” Michelle Mauriello from New Jersey said. “She was very good with foreign policy, her beliefs, and she really was empowering. I love the fact that she stood strong in a sea of men, and she’s my first choice."

Mauriello said Haley wasn’t her first choice though — DeSantis was.

For others, their top pick wasn’t on the stage Wednesday night.

“There was just a lot of bickering back and forth, with a lot of people trying to go after top, but what’s really funny about it is that the top is Donald Trump,” Lukas Baker of Milwaukee said. “And so, what you actually have is you have a lot of chipmunks trying to take down a huge maple tree, and it’s just really all noise.”

Noise or not, voters will have to sort through the crowded field before next summer when the convention comes to Wisconsin, where it all started.

Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy speaks in the spin room after a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by FOX News Channel Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

After Wednesday night’s debate, Democrats didn’t necessarily single out specific candidates. Instead, they took more broad swipes at the remarks made by Republicans on stage this week.

“What we heard is a lot of rhetoric that’s going to take us backward,” former Wisconsin Lieutenant Gov. Mandela Barnes said. “It’s going to take us into the past. Our message is about moving this country forward, moving this state forward. A message of opportunity, talking about how do we lift up all communities. How do we give people that fair shot they deserve that they’ve been denied?”

Republicans, on the other hand, saw it as a chance to showcase diversity — not just between the candidates themselves, but on the issues too.

“You saw candidates talking about a variety of issues, taking a variety of stances, especially on foreign policy, where there are elements in the party that want to see us be a little more interventionist and other elements that would like to see us be a little more isolationist,” Republican Party of Wisconsin Executive Director Mark Jefferson explained.

Barnes, who made climate change a priority during his time in office, said he was disappointed with some of the responses he heard from Republicans.

“We heard somebody say that climate change is a hoax; we heard about the continued attack on abortion and we also heard about people who want to make it harder to vote,” Barnes added. “And to have had that type of conversation come here into Wisconsin shows just how important this upcoming election is.”

However, before that election, Jefferson said he hopes Republicans will put more focus on some of the other issues Wisconsinites care about but were not fully discussed Wednesday.

“It’s more and more difficult for families to own homes with interest rates pushing 7% to 8%,” Jefferson added. “I don’t think you saw as much focus on energy and the dependence on foreign energy and foreign oil and putting more money in the pockets of our opponents worldwide. I think that’s a problem that they’re going to have to talk about a lot more.”