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In New Hampshire, Marco Rubio Looks To Capture Mainstream Republicans


Sen. Marco Rubio heads into the New Hampshire primary with the wind at his back. He finished third in Iowa, an unexpectedly strong showing. Now Rubio's trying to unite mainstream Republicans behind him, but his rivals aren't going along with that idea. Here's NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: For Jeb Bush and Chris Christie to keep their presidential campaigns alive, they need to derail Marco Rubio. So Bush and Christie, each with long records as governors, are aggressively belittling Rubio's record as a first-term U.S. Senator. Here's the New Jersey governor himself in Newport, N.H., comparing Rubio to Barack Obama.


CHRIS CHRISTIE: The fact is that, you know, we elected a first-term United States senator the last time. It didn't work out very well for us.

GONYEA: And here's an official Christie campaign ad featuring an appearance by Senator Rick Santorum, who's endorsed Rubio on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program.


JOE SCARBOROUGH: What do you list as Marco Rubio's top accomplishment that made you decide to endorse him?

RICK SANTORUM: There's a guy who's been able to, number one, win a tough election in Florida.

SCARBOROUGH: Can you name...

GONYEA: The ad goes on for a full minute, showing Santorum struggling to defend Rubio's resume.


SCARBOROUGH: All I'm asking is a simple question - list one accomplishment that Marco Rubio has achieved in four years of the United States Senate.

SANTORUM: The bottom line is there isn't a whole lot of accomplishments, Joe, and I just don't think it's a fair question.

GONYEA: Rubio has complained about the attacks. Calling his opponents desperate, he defended himself in a news conference in Manchester yesterday, pointing to his time in the Senate and as speaker of the Florida House.


MARCO RUBIO: Bottom line is I'm proud of my service and public record. We have real achievements, not just in the U.S. Senate but in my time as speaker of the House and as a state legislator. But this campaign's about the future, not the past.

GONYEA: Jeb Bush and the super PAC supporting him have actually been going after Rubio for months. It's a former Florida governor versus a current Florida U.S. senator, making the rivalry even more personal. Now a pro-Rubio super PAC has released this.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: What happened to Jeb Bush? He spent millions praising himself, and his campaign tanked. Then Jeb spent millions more tearing down Republicans and fell even further.

GONYEA: The back and forth spilled over into a Bush town hall yesterday, where he offered an impression of Rubio as a whiny teenager.


JEB BUSH: I'm being attacked by Marco Rubio's super PAC, and I don't feel - it's so unfair, you know, it's not...


BUSH: That's just not - look, I mean, get over it, man.

GONYEA: Then a bit of advice to the guy who's beating Bush in the polls. If you think it's ugly now...


BUSH: Wait 'til Hillary Clinton gets up to bat. That's the hit machine that you should be focused on.

GONYEA: There are news reports that Bush and Christie operatives have been communicating behind-the-scenes about their shared goal of taking Rubio down. The candidates deny any coordination. But Saturday is the last GOP debate before the New Hampshire primary, and if Bush and Christie gang up on Rubio, it'll be there for all to see. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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