Donald Trump’s absence didn’t stop candidates from sparring onstage in Iowa Thursday night. (DonkeyHotey/Flickr via Creative Commons)
Donald Trump’s absence didn’t stop candidates from sparring onstage in Iowa Thursday night. (DonkeyHotey/Flickr via Creative Commons)

It's almost caucus time: The GOP's Presidential hopefuls took to the podiums Thursday evening for their final debate before the Iowa caucuses on Monday night. Despite the absence of party frontrunner Donald Trump, the main event proved to be a lively affair. Here's what the candidates had to say on the night's biggest topics.

Islamic State

Marco Rubio called the country to battle against both Syria and Islamic State militants, while Ky. Sen. Rand Paul cautioned against joining foreign wars at the risk of empowering the Islamic State. Former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush was among the strongest of the prime time participants when it came to foreign policy, advocating for a no-fly zone over Syria, and to train Sunni tribal leaders to fight back against Islamic State extremism.

Affordable Care Act

Of all the candidates, only Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had the chance to offer an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, saying he supported expansion of savings accounts for healthcare and allowing insurance to be purchased across state lines.

Veterans

Bush argued for reform in the Department of Veterans Affairs, and said he hopes to change the country's perspective on veterans.

The National Security Agency

Paul called out Cruz early on in the debate for supporting the collection of phone records by the NSA, saying, "I don't think you have to give up your liberty for a false sense of security."

Though the viewers heard some key sound bites about the candidates' goals for national security and foreign policy, the prime time field spent more time arguing with the moderators and attacking each other than they did addressing major issues. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and N.J. Gov. Chris Christie reiterated their years of experience, while retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson once again countered his lack of political grooming with his commitment to "truth." We'll see how Iowans respond when the caucuses begin on Monday evening.

Reach Staff Reporter Helen Floersh here; follow here on Twitter here.