Rubio, Cruz face barrage of attacks in Republican debate

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, first-term senators on the rise in the presidential race, faced a barrage of attacks in Saturday night’s Republican debate, with rivals challenging Cruz’s controversial campaign tactics and Rubio’s readiness to be president.

While Rubio finished third in the leadoff Iowa caucuses, he exceeded expectations and appears to be gaining steam heading into Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary. His rise is a threat not only to front-runners Donald Trump and Cruz but to a trio of governors — Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich — who need a strong showing in New Hampshire to stay in the campaign.

Christie took aim first at Rubio Saturday night, declaring that the Florida senator has “not been involved in a consequential decision where you need to be held accountable.” Bush in turn said Rubio was a gifted politician but warned voters against again putting the White House in the hands of a first-term senator.

“We’ve tried it the old way, with Barack Obama and soaring rhetoric,” said Bush, who served as a political mentor to Rubio in Florida.

Rubio said he was proud of his service in the Senate and suggested Obama’s problems were less about experience and more about ideology.

Cruz won in Iowa, triumphing over billionaire Trump. But he’s faced criticism for messages his campaign sent to voters just ahead of the caucuses saying rival Ben Carson was dropping out and urging the retired neurosurgeon’s supporters to back Cruz instead.

Cruz apologized for his campaign’s actions Saturday, but not before Carson jabbed him for having “Washington ethics.”

Those ethics, he said, “say if it’s legal, you do what you do to win.”

Trump was back on the debate stage after skipping the last contest before the Iowa caucuses. After spending the past several days disputing his second-place finish in Iowa, he sought to refocus on the core messages of his campaign, including blocking Muslims from coming to the U.S. and deporting all people in the country illegally.