By Emily Stephenson and Alina Selyukh
(Reuters) - The first of two early Republican presidential candidates' debates had yet to end on Thursday when the U.S. social media world began declaring former business executive Carly Fiorina the winner.
During the debate, the name of the former Hewlett-Packard Co chief executive dominated Google searches of the participants in the Fox News forum, and she shot far ahead of the others in rankings of references on Twitter, according to analyses by Google and Topsy.com.
Fiorina's low national polling results leading up to the debate meant she missed the cut to take part in the prime-time Republican forum of the 10 top candidates in Cleveland. Real estate mogul Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and others were invited to that prime-time event later on Thursday.
But fans and observers said she trounced opponents, including Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, in what turned out to be a low-energy exchange among the bottom seven. And many viewers said she belonged on the main stage.
"They should invite carly fiorina back for the 9 oclock debate," former Republican presidential hopeful, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich wrote on Twitter.
"Just finished watching 'Survivor: Cleveland.' Carly Fiorina outperformed. She takes home the immunity necklace," wrote Eric Fehrnstrom, a former aide to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, referring to a talisman from the reality TV show that protects a player's place in the game.
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LESS THAN 1 PERCENT
Fiorina, who garnered less than 1 percent of support in a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll of the Republican field, squared off with other low-polling candidates in what the media and politicians jokingly called the "B-list" or the "kids' table" debate.
Fox News decided to restrict participation for its prime-time forum to avoid a crowded 17-candidate stage.
Both The Wall Street Journal and Fox News asked viewers to share online whom they considered the winners of the first debate. Fiorina far surpassed others.
She scored points with digs against fellow Republican candidate Donald Trump and leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Fans praised her polished presentation. "I'm not a member of the political class," she said. "I can win this job. I can do this job."
Even Perry threw a spotlight on her, saying he would rather have Fiorina negotiate foreign policy as secretary of state than John Kerry, the Democratic incumbent.
One backer of another rival, U.S. Senator Rand Paul, had another job in mind. The Instagram user louisianaforrandpaul posted a photo of Fiorina and wrote, "Not going to lie, Fiorina just wrecked everyone on the early debates. VP?" -- a reference to vice president.
For a graphic on the candidates' policy positions, click on http://reut.rs/1gNN90T
(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Howard Goller)