Donald Trump loomed large over the final Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses, despite not being on stage.
His absence was mocked by his rivals, who tried to fill the space vacated by Mr Trump’s boycott by attacking each other on immigration and other issues.
Mr Trump decided to withdraw after Fox News refused to drop debate host Megyn Kelly, whom he accused of bias.
The billionaire held a rally nearby, in honour of war veterans, that threatened to overshadow the debate itself.
On Monday, voters in Iowa are due to pick their presidential nominee for each party.
Days ahead of that critical test, Mr Trump’s absence on the stage in Des Moines was keenly felt by his seven rivals in the race to be Republican presidential nominee.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz addressed it with humour in the opening minutes by throwing mock insults at his rivals.
“I’m a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly, and Ben [Carson], you’re a terrible surgeon,” he said.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush also poked fun at the hotel tycoon, his chief tormenter in previous debates, by saying how much he missed him.