Republican rivals targeted the rise of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio Saturday, leaving the leading establishment candidate shaken and perhaps profoundly weakened leading into Tuesday’s primary.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie led the charge against Rubio, arguing the first-term senator’s resume resembled Barack Obama’s in 2008. Rubio landed into trouble when he responded to the criticism.
"Let's dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing," Rubio said. "He knows exactly what he's doing."
"That's what Washington, D.C. does,” Christie said. “The drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information and then the memorized 25-second speech.”
Rubio would repeat his response three times within the span of a few minutes, leaving rivals to further question his credentials.
“To be so scripted that you can’t have the agility to show the leadership skills you need to be president of the United States, I think that became clear,” said Republican presidential candidate Gov. Jeb Bush.
In an interview with NBC12’s Mike Valerio, Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd said New Hampshire voters may gravitate towards another establishment candidate who performed well in Saturday’s debate.
“I don't discount John Kasich, and I think he's run the type of New Hampshire campaign I've seen succeed here before,” Todd said. “Think John McCain in 2000.”
Polls have Rubio still holding onto second place in New Hampshire, with Sen. Ted Cruz in third after triumph in Iowa. But Donald Trump remains at the top, ahead of Rubio by about 10 percentage points.
“I don't know if there's enough time for [Rubio] to catch Trump,” Todd said. “But the closer he gets to Trump, the more momentum he gets going into South Carolina.”
On the Democratic side, it's Bernie Sanders the idealist, versus Hillary Clinton the realist. Clinton has trailed by double digits, but there are some signs of improvement after the latest debate.
“Honestly, I've never really believed in these giant leads,” Todd said. “These polls that have given Sanders these giant leads in there of 20, 30 points.”
It was New Hampshire that saved Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2008, and Bill Clinton's strong second place finish in '92 that led to his nickname “The Comeback Kid.”
“I suspect that this is going to be perhaps a high single digit race,” Todd said. “Sanders is the favorite. I'd be shocked if he didn't win. But I've always thought that some of these poll leads were sort of illusions.”
For now, it's all eyes on the nine Republicans and two Democrats, and a landscape likely to change before Virginia votes on March 1, Super Tuesday.