Carly Fiorina may have narrowly qualified for the main stage at Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate -- but the former Hewlett Packard boss made the most of it, once again grabbing the spotlight with an impassioned appeal to defund Planned Parenthood and tough retorts against front-runner Donald Trump. 

Fiorina by many accounts had the standout performance of the night. And in a year when outsider candidates are king -- or queen -- the businesswoman who has never held public office indicated Thursday she hopes to use the new visibility to further raise her profile with voters. 

"This was a huge opportunity for me to continue to introduce myself to the American people," she told Fox News. "I was very pleased with last night." 

Whether Fiorina's performance at the CNN debate translates to higher poll numbers remains to be seen. But her breakout performance at last month's undercard debate on the Fox News stage seemed to help her climb -- just enough to qualify, after she pressured CNN to change its rules, for the main stage at Wednesday's event. 

One of the most memorable moments came not during one of the many sparring sessions on stage but in Fiorina's response to videos depicting fetal tissue harvesting by Planned Parenthood and its partners. 

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"I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain," she said, urging Congress to send the president a bill to defund the group. "This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up in and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us." 

The moment earned her huge applause from the audience at the debate in California. 

Fiorina also held her own against Trump, who himself sparred with several candidates on stage throughout the three-hour showdown. 

Fiorina, notably, got her chance to respond to Trump's controversial jab at her, where in a magazine article he said: "Look at that face -- would anyone vote for that?" 

Asked to respond, she said, "I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said." 

Trump then said, "I think she's got a beautiful face, and I think she's a beautiful woman." 

Republican strategist Brett O'Donnell said Fiorina "hit it out of the park" in that exchange. 

"She got the better of him last night," O'Donnell told Fox News. 

Fiorina is still polling at just about 3 percent nationally, but has been improving in early-voting Iowa and New Hampshire. With her rise, she's been attracting the criticism of fellow candidates. Trump slammed Fiorina for her record at HP, calling her former company a "disaster." She in turn cited his repeated bankruptcy filings and questioned why America should trust him to manage its finances. 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie interjected at that point and said middle-class Americans "could care less about your careers." He told the two to "stop this childish back and forth." 

Republican primary voters so far have been gravitating toward the outsider candidates, with retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson currently in second place to Trump in most polls right now. 

For his part, Carson avoided the fray for most the debate. 

He took one light-hearted jab at Trump, after Trump discussed his views on vaccines and said there are cases of children getting sick -- and having autism -- after getting them. 

Asked about Trump's medical opinion, Carson said, "He's an okay doctor" -- in reference to a comment Trump recently made about him. Carson went on to say there's no documented association between autism and vaccines, but doctors are probably giving too many vaccines in a short period of time. 

Aside from the sparring with Trump, the candidates did have a chance to stake out their positions on a range of policy issues. 

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee slammed a federal judge for temporarily jailing Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, saying the U.S. has made religious "accommodations" for Guantanamo detainees and the Fort Hood shooter, but Davis is facing a "criminalization of her faith." 

And Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said of the agreement with Tehran, "I will rip to shreds this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal." 

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also focused on foreign policy, warning about China's military build-up, and "gangsters in Moscow" meddling on the world stage. 

On this, Rubio challenged Trump's global affairs knowledge. Trump vowed, "I will know more about the problems of this world" as president. And he criticized Rubio for missing votes.