Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) heads into next week’s New Hampshire primary with a clear target on his back from several Republican presidential rivals.
After a strong third place finish in Monday’s Iowa caucus, Sen. Rubio (R-Florida) has all the momentum among the candidates vying for the “establishment” lane.
It’s earned him heavy fire from both former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) over the past few days.
Rubio came out of the Monday-night Iowa caucuses with 23% of the Republican vote. In doing so, he separated himself from Bush, Christie, and the fourth main establishment hopeful, Ohio. Gov John Kasich (R), who each earned less than 3% of the vote.
New Hampshire has always been more important, friendlier territory for each. Now, with their presidential aspirations attached to a strong finish in the Granite State, Bush and Christie are piling on Rubio — and they have even started teaming up to do so.
It’s led to a sort of behind-the-scenes coordination between the two campaigns, The New York Times reported Thursday. For example, The Times reported that aides to both campaigns have exchanged news hits on Rubio. And although there isn’t a formal agreement, the two campaigns recognise that they have a shared goal — unleashing an all-out attack on the senator leading up to Tuesday.
“We do have similar goals,” an adviser to Christie told The Times’ Michael Barbaro and Jonathan Martin.
The pair, and allies to both candidates, have split their attacks on Rubio in what The Times termed as a “division of labour.” Bush’s allied super PAC has railed on Rubio in TV ads and mailings, whereas Christie — who’s known for his more than colourful comments — has berated him on the trail.
“Jeb can’t do that sort of stuff,” a Christie adviser told The Times, referencing Christie’s penchant for ripping his foes. “They don’t have the weapon.”
Christie has recently referred to Rubio as “the boy in the bubble” who’s afraid to take questions. He also compared Rubio’s career in the Senate to a fourth grader at an event, challenging people present “to show me the significant accomplishment that Sen. Rubio has done while he’s in the United States Senate.”
“I can’t find one,” he said.
Both campaigns have been blasting Rubio in a series of emails, with the Christie campaign sending out no fewer than five emails related to Rubio over the past day alone. Both campaigns also highlighted former GOP candidate and Sen. Rick Santorum’s (R-Pennsylvania) inability to name an accomplishment of Rubio’s in a televised interview with MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough following his endorsement of the candidate.
Christie later appeared on “Morning Joe” and responded to Santorum’s interview.
“Because Marco Rubio hasn’t accomplished one thing in his entire career. I mean, the fact is this is a guy who has only done one thing in the United States Senate — that was writing an amnesty bill for illegal immigrants and then to run away from it when the heat got turned up,” Christie said in the interview.
Christie continued: “He’s given the same speech he’s given for six years. His handlers surround him and coddle him. They call on members of the press, individually selected, to ask him their selected questions. And then he does a drive-by, 45 minute town hall meeting where he gives the same 60-second canned answers that he gives on the debate stage.”
Rubio, for his part, was asked about the Santorum interview during a Fox News appearance on Thursday. He listed off his work on eminent-domain abuse, reform in the Department of Veterans Affairs, on delivering a key setback to a provision of the Affordable Care Act, and on pressing through new sanctions on Hezbollah.
“Despite the fact that most of my career in Washington … has involved Democrats in charge, we have achieved some real things,” he said.
Matt Gorman, a Bush campaign spokesman, however, was quick to point out holes in Rubio’s citations. He noted Rubio was not present for the November 2015 Senate vote on imposing additional sanctions on Hezbollah. And he pointed to fact checkers and news articles that have suggested Rubio overplayed his role in the Obamacare setback.
“Marco Rubio has had opportunities to lead time and again as a U.S. Senator, but he’s cut and run. Now, he wants to be President of the United States. We need a Commander-in-Chief with the record and results to lead our nation forward, and that’s Jeb Bush,” Gorman said in an email.
Bush, Christie, Rubio, and Kasich are all locked in a four-way battle for many of the same New Hampshire voters. Per the latest RealClearPolitics average of the polls, Rubio is in first among the quartet with 11.8%. Kasich comes in second with 11%, followed by Bush with 9.3% and Christie with 6.3%.
Brett LoGiurato contributed reporting.
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