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Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders overtook former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for online traffic surrounding the debate. Pictured: Sanders and Clinton shake hands following his mention of Clinton's email controversy which was the most tweeted moment of the night. Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

The numbers of contenders for the latest presidential debate dropped from 11 to just five. Joe Biden didn't make a surprise appearance for the first Democratic debate Tuesday night -- and neither did Donald Trump. Trump kept himself in the spotlight even without being on stage by tweeting his thoughts throughout the event. And one of the Democrats onstage kept himself in the conversation with a knock-out line -- and some strategic spending.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders took the prize in the most tweeted moment of the night. The tweet, which received more than 11,000 retweets two-hours after it was posted, was in response to his opponent Hillary Clinton’s email exchange.

Beyond the traffic generated from that single tweet, that moment had the most number of mentions on Twitter for Sanders across all candidates, according to data from Brandwatch.

But not all of that viral attention was free, however. The Sanders campaign shelled out money to Twitter to promote the hashtag #DebateWithBernie. It was the same hashtag that Sanders employed during the last Republican debate.

The effort, in part, paid off in terms of attention. Sanders' impression reached more than 1.3 million while Clinton had 372 million followed by former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb at 236 million, Brandwatch data revealed. With that promotion, Sanders encapsulated the others when it came to volume on Twitter. Sanders had more than 264,000 mentions two hours into the debate, with Webb at 110,000, Clinton at 85,000, Lincoln Chafee at 43,000 and Martin O’Malley at 22,000.

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The most tweeted moment of the night came from Bernie Sanders' addressing Hillary Clinton's email controversy. Other moments around Sanders overtook the other candidates on Twitter, according to data from Brandwatch. Brandwatch

Winning Search

Beyond his paid tweets, Sanders also took the spotlight in search traffic. About an hour into the debate Google search volume for “Bernie Sanders” was doubling “Hillary Rodham Clinton,” data analytics company Echelon noted. The senator also had the most search traffic following the opening statements.

The candidate was also the most associated term when it came to viewers searching for stances on gun control.

On Twitter, Sanders also received praise when it came to the debate on racism and gun control. “Black lives matter,” Sanders said. “We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom. We need major reforms in a broken criminal justice system.”

“Black Lives Matter” received more than 4,600 mentions on Twitter shortly following the question on “Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter” from host Anderson Cooper. Associated tweets mentioning Sanders garnered the most positive sentiment, according to insights from Brandwatch.

Praise for Sanders was in contrast from Sanders' earlier stumbles on the issue. Sander’s campaign manager Jeff Weaver told CNN ahead of the debate the candidate would be using his on-air time to talk about “issues of importance to the black community.”

Taking Over Trump

Earlier in the debate, the most shared messages on Twitter came from Trump with several of the tweets garnering more than 1,000 retweets. One of the most shared tweets, topping 3,000 retweets, was a quick jab at Democratic candidate Lincoln Chafee, who formerly served as Rhode Island governor.

Other popular tweets included one from Trump judging Putin’s emotions, calling the trade deal a disaster and calling for an end to commercials, according to Echelon. Bill Clinton’s tweet supporting his wife as he watched in a hotel room also became one of the most shared of the night, Echelon’s data showed.

The debate between Hillary Clinton and Trump began earlier in the day via Twitter when Clinton chimed in on Trump’s announcement he would be live-tweeting during the event.

As Bridget Coyne of Twitter’s government and media team said at the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia last week “We don’t have to wait for the general debate to see the debate. The primary debate is happening on Twitter.”

Trump also chimed in on the night’s most tweeted moment.