The Republicans debated in New Hampshire on Saturday night. The debate comes just days before New Hampshire’s Feb. 9 primaries.
US Republican contender Marco Rubio struggled at a presidential debate last night at the worst possible time, potentially confounding his bid to emerge as Donald Trump’s chief rival in New Hampshire and giving hope to three rivals desperate for a strong showing.
Under assault from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie over his level of experience as a first-term US senator from Florida, Mr Rubio retreated time and again to canned statements from his stump speech and looked uncomfortably rattled for the first time after seamless performances at seven prior debates.
“Marco, the thing is this,” Mr Christie said during one heated exchange early in the night, “when you’re president of the United States, when you’re a governor of a state, the memorized 30-second speech where you talk about how great America is at the end of it doesn’t solve one problem for one person.”
While Mr Rubio recovered later in the debate, the timing of his performance was terrible, coming three days before New Hampshire Republicans register their choices on Tuesday in the nation’s second nominating contest.
The debate at St Anselm College was the last face-off of the candidates before the vote.
Mr Rubio’s tough moments may breathe new life into the campaigns of Mr Christie, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and Ohio Governor John Kasich – three experienced politicians who, like Mr Rubio, represent establishment Republicans.
All three have suffered from the dominance of front-runner Donald Trump in the Republican race.
They are badly in need of a breakout moment to change the trajectory of the battle in New Hampshire, where the polls show Mr Trump in the lead, Mr Rubio in second and Texas Senator Ted Cruz in third place.
Mr Trump did not have his best debate. He looked flustered in a fight with Mr Bush over the use of eminent domain in advancing the interests of public use projects and private industry.
But he seemed to do well enough to possibly win on Tuesday in what would represent his first victory of the 2016 race, erasing the pain from a loss in the Iowa caucus last week, where he finished second to Mr Cruz and just ahead of the surging Mr Rubio.
A victory in New Hampshire could put Mr Trump on track for more wins in South Carolina on 20 February and beyond on the way to the 8 November election.
Sportact Editors and Wire Services