- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 6, 2016

GOFFSTOWN, N.H. — Looking to pick a fight, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pummeled Sen. Marco Rubio over his record in Congress in Saturday’s GOP presidential debate, saying the Florida Republican’s canned speeches don’t hide how he lacks the executive experience - and political backbone - to be president.

Businessman Donald Trump, meanwhile, took aim at the audience inside the debate hall here at Saint Anselm College, saying the boos that rained down on him over his support of eminent domain came from deep-pocketed donors and special interests that want to control him, but can’t.

Mr. Christie has faded in recent polls, while Mr. Rubio has been been on the rise following his third place finish in the Iowa caucuses - putting a big bullseye on his back on the campaign trail where Mr. Rubio’s rivals have warned that he is as too inexperienced to be commander-in-chief.

In the the eighth Republican debate, Mr. Rubio said he is proud of the record he has compiled since being elected to the Senate in 2010 and in the Florida legislature before that.

“I would say if the presidency become about electing the people who have been in Congress or the Senate the longest, we should rally around [Vice President] Joe Biden,” Mr. Rubio said. “He has been around a thousands years. He has passed hundreds of bills and I don’t think anybody thinks Joe Biden should be president of the United States.”

Mr. Christie pounced, saying “Marco you shouldn’t compare yourself to Joe Biden.”

SEE ALSO: Review-Journal endorses Marco Rubio for Nevada’s GOP caucus

“You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you have to be held accountable,” Mr. Christie said. “You just simply haven’t.”

Mr. Rubio pushed back, highlighting how New Jersey has had nine credit downgrades on Mr. Christie’s watch, arguing “we don’t need to add to it by electing someone who has experience at running up and destroying the credit rating of his state.”

“That’s what Washington, D.C. does,” Mr. Christie responded. “The drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information and then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him.”

The spat came toward the beginning of the two-hour showdown, where Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush joined Mr. Trump, Mr. Rubio and Mr. Christie on stage.

The debate offered the seven Republicans a major stage to deliver their closing argument to undecided voters and spell out their stances on everything from immigration to military rules of engagement and waterboarding. They also were asked to predict the winner of Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers.

Mr. Trump, who is polling first, defended his support of eminent domain, saying it helps clear the way for roads, bridges and hospitals to be built, and that smart people can get “two or three times the value of their property.”

“The Keystone Pipeline without eminent domain wouldn’t go ten feet,” Mr. Trump said. “Eminent domain is a good thing.”

Mr. Bush, though, said there is a major difference between the the use of eminent domain for public and private reasons.

“What Donald Trump did was to use eminent domain to try to take the property of an elderly woman on the strip in Atlantic City,” Mr. Bush said. “That is downright wrong.”

Denying the claim, Mr. Trump said Mr. Bush “wants to be a tough guy tonight” and told him during a heated exchange to be “quiet” - eliciting boos from the audience.

“That’s all of his donor and his special interests,” Mr. Trump said of the crowd reaction, sparking more boos.

“The reason they’re not loving me is, I don’t want their money. I’m going to do the right thing for the American public. I don’t want their money. I don’t need their money,” he said.

Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina failed to meet the polling criteria set by ABC to qualify for the debate.

Mrs. Fiorina said her exclusion shows that the “game is rigged,” and bashed the Republican National Committee and ABC for leaving her out after she finished ahead of Mr. Kasich and Mr. Christie in the Iowa caucuses.

Lagging in polls, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore also was snubbed.

Mr. Cruz, who won the Iowa caucuses, once again apologized to Mr. Carson, who has accused the Cruz campaign of hurting his chances in Iowa by spreading a false report that said he was ending his campaign.

Mr. Carson said the Cruz campaign tactics is “a very good example of certain types of Washington ethics.”

“Washington ethics. Washington ethics basically says, if it’s legal, you do what you need to do in order to win,” he said. “That’s not my ethics. My ethics is, you do what’s right.”

Mr. Cruz also said he would “absolutely” support loosening the rules of engagement for U.S. military forces, and said he supports the limited use of waterboarding. And he showed a softer side by sharing the story of how he lost a half-sister to a drug overdose after trying to pull her out of her tailspin.

“As president, I will secure the border, we will end this deluge of drugs that is flowing over our southern border and that is killing Americans across this country,” Mr. Cruz said.

Mr. Kasich cast himself as a happy warrior, and said that he supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

“If they have not committed a crime since they’ve been here, I believe they ought to pay some back taxes, pay a fine, never get on the path to citizenship, but get legalization,” Mr. Kasich said.

“I couldn’t even imagine how we would even begin to think about taking a mom or a dad out of a house when they have not committed a crime since they’ve been here, leaving their children in the house. I mean, that is not, in my opinion, the kind of values that we believe in,” he said.

Mr. Rubio tried to distance himself from the 2013 immigration bill that he co-authored that would have provided a quick path to legalization, and a path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants.

“It is not the way we’re going to do when I’m president,” Mr. Rubio said.

“When I’m president, we are going to enforce the law first, prove to people that illegal immigration is under control,” he said. “And then we’ll see what the American people are willing to support when it comes to people that are not criminals, who have been in the this country for a long time and who otherwise would like to stay.”

Once again, Mr. Christie attacked, saying Mr. Rubio has been running away from the bill.

“The fact of the matter is, a leader must fight for what they believe in, not handicap it and say, ‘Well maybe since I can’t win this one, I’ll run,’” Mr. Christie said. “That’s not what leadership is.”

The candidates are scheduled to fan out across the state Sunday and Monday in an attempt to coax undecided voters into their corner.

The fallout from the Iowa caucuses - Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee - underscores the stakes here in New Hampshire.

Mr. Bush, Mr. Kasich and Mr. Christie are hoping to stop Mr. Rubio’s post-Iowa surge and that a strong performance here could help them consolidate the support of voters searching for an alternative to Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz, who are polling first nationally, as well as in South Carolina, which holds the first-in-the-south primary on Feb. 20.

Mr. Kasich held his 100th town hall meeting here Friday and then deployed former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for a tele-town hall call.

Mr. Bush, though, could be bettered position than Mr. Kasich and Mr. Christie to move on in the race given that he is better funded and more organized in South Carolina.

He held an event this week with his mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush, and campaigned with Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said Mr. Bush is “toast” if he he finishes behind Mr. Rubio in Tuesday’s primary.

Mr. Bush and his allies have spent an estimated $20 million attacking Mr. Rubio over the airwaves.

The latest UMASS/7 News tracking polls shows Mr. Trump leading his closest New Hampshire rival, Mr. Rubio, by a 34 to 14 percent margin. Mr. Cruz is at 13 percent, and both Mr. Kasich and Mr. Bush are at 10 percent. They are followed by Mr. Christie, 4 percent, and both Mrs,. Fiorinda and Mr. Carson at 3 percent.

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