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New Chris Christie ad pounces on Rick Santorum’s stumble to define Marco Rubio

Chris Christie took a swipe at Marco Rubio in a new advertisement that features a top backer’s inability to identify one of Rubio’s accomplishments

The 60-second spot — called “It’s a Simple Question” — features clips from a “Morning Joe” segment Thursday. In the video, Rick Santorum fails to name one of Rubio’s Senate accomplishments.

“All I’m asking is a simple question,” the advertisement shows Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough saying to Santorum. “List one accomplishment Marco Rubio has achieved in four years of the United States Senate.”

Santorum is then shown responding to Scarborough with: “The bottom line is — there isn’t a whole lot of accomplishments, Joe. I just don’t think it’s a fair question.”

Christie has been taking hits at the Florida Republican for several days. In a video released by his campaign Wednesday, the New Jersey Republican said he would “challenge anyone to show me a significant accomplishment that Senator Rubio has done while he’s in the United States Senate.”

“I can’t find one and he’s been asked this by members of the press and he can’t give you one,” he said Wednesday. “He talks about the things he’s fought against. What’s he done?”

Christie is in sixth place in New Hampshire, according to recent polling averages. He trails Rubio who is in second, according to RealClearPolitics. The New Hampshire primary is Tuesday.

Ted Cruz raises $3 million since Iowa caucus win

Republican Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign has raised $3 million since winning the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1.

That’s according to Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe, who tweeted out the new fundraising numbers on Thursday.

Roe says the Cruz campaign has raised $10 million overall since the beginning of the year. That includes 182,000 individual contributions averaging $55 each.

Cruz was enjoying a big fundraising advantage over his Republican rivals even before the new numbers were released.

His campaign closed the year with almost $18.7 million in the bank. That was roughly as much as Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie combined.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Chris Christie says if he faces Hillary Clinton in debate, he’d “beat her rear end”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says if he faces Hillary Clinton on a debate stage, he’d “beat her rear end.”

Christie, who like Clinton is a lawyer, says he’s the last person Clinton wants to debate. “You know why?” he asked an audience in Lebanon, New Hampshire. “She’s been running away from federal prosecutors the last six months.” He was referring to the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.

“She sees a federal prosecutor on the stage, I’ll beat her rear-end on that stage,” Christie said. “And you know what? After I do, she’ll be relieved because she would just be worried I was going to serve her with a subpoena. It will be a relief just to lose the debate.”

Carly Fiorina calls debate process “broken” after learning she’s shut out of Saturday night forum

With Rand Paul dropping out of the GOP presidential race, the field is winnowing out.

That doesn’t mean that the rest of the 10-person field gets to stand on one debate stage this Saturday night.

Although ABC, the debate sponsor, says they haven’t yet announced the lineup of candidates, Carly Fiorina says she has learned she won’t be invited – and she’s not pleased about that.

“Our debate process is broken,” the only female Republican candidate writes to Party Chair Reince Priebus and other members of the Republican National Committee. “Networks are making up these debate rules as they go along–not to be able to fit candidates on the stage–but arbitrarily to decide which candidates make for the best TV in their opinion. Now it is time for the RNC to act in the best interest of the Party that it represents.”

Fiorina says she will be the only candidate still in the race not invited on to the stage this Saturday night at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Fiorina says it’s ridiculous that while she did better in Iowa than some of the other candidates on Monday night, they’ve been invited to the debate, while she has been shunned off the stage.

“To review, we beat Governors Christie and Kasich in Iowa this week when voters actually had their say. This campaign has the same number of delegates as Governors Bush and Kasich while Governor Christie has zero. We’re ahead of Dr. Carson in New Hampshire polling. We are 6th in hard dollars raised and have twice the cash on hand as either Governors Christie or Kasich. We are already on the ballot in 32 states, and there is a ground game with paid staff in 12 states.

“Yet, all of these candidates will be invited to the ABC debate. I will not.”

No word yet from the RNC on her statement.

Marco Rubio dismisses Chris Christie’s dismissal of him

Marco Rubio says rival Chris Christie‘s dismissal of him as unprepared to lead the nation is a sign that the Florida senator is a threat to the New Jersey governor in the GOP nomination fight.

During an interview with CNN, Rubio said, “When people attack you, usually they don’t attack someone who isn’t doing well.”

Rubio nearly beat billionaire Donald Trump for second place in the Iowa caucuses Monday night. Christie finished near the bottom of the crowded GOP field, but has focused his campaign on a strong finish in New Hampshire.

Both landed in New Hampshire with brutal media schedules, determined to spend the week before the Feb. 9 primary wooing voters.

Iowa caucuses: Tight races for both parties

Iowa kicked off voting in the 2016 presidential race Monday night, with the Republican contest shaping up as a three-way fight among Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were also locked in a tight battle as the caucuses began.

The indicators were based on interviews with voters who arrived early to caucus sites across the state, conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and the television networks.

At stake in Iowa was crucial early momentum in the presidential campaign, and for some candidates, the future of their White House hopes altogether.

Candidates faced an electorate deeply frustrated with Washington. While the economy has improved under President Barack Obama’s watch, the recovery has eluded many Americans. New terror threats at home and abroad have also ratcheted up national security concerns.

In Iowa, which has for decades launched the presidential nominating contest, candidates also faced an electorate that’s whiter, more rural and more evangelical than many states. But, given its prime leadoff spot in the primary season, the state gets extra attention from presidential campaigns.

Even so, Iowa has decidedly mixed results in picking eventual nominees. The past two Republican caucus winners — former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — faded as the race stretched on. But Barack Obama’s unexpected 2008 victory was instrumental in his path to the Democratic nomination, easing the anxieties of those who worried the young black senator would struggle to win white voters.

Clinton was seeking to overcome the ghosts of her loss to Obama in 2008. Her campaign spent nearly a year building a massive get-out-the-vote operation in Iowa.

Yet she faced an unexpected challenge from Sanders, the self-declared democratic socialist from Vermont. Sanders has drawn big, youthful crowds across the state and his campaign was hoping for high turnout.

“We will struggle tonight if the voter turnout is low. That’s a fact,” Sanders told volunteers and supporters in Des Moines.

Monday’s contest will offer the first hard evidence of whether Trump can turn the legion of fans drawn to his plainspoken populism into voters. He has intensified his campaign schedule during the final sprint, including a pair of rallies Monday where he predicted “a tremendous victory.”

Cruz has modeled his campaign after past Iowa winners, visiting all of the state’s 99 counties and courting influential evangelical and conservative leaders. With the state seemingly tailor-made for his brand of uncompromising conservatism, a loss to Trump would likely be viewed as a failure to meet expectations.

Seeking to tamp down expectations, Cruz said Sunday, “If you had told me a year ago that two days out from the Iowa caucuses we would be neck and neck, effectively tied for first place in the state of Iowa, I would have been thrilled.”

Cruz has spent the closing days of the Iowa campaign focused intensely on Marco Rubio, trying to ensure the Florida senator doesn’t inch into second place. Rubio is viewed by many Republicans as a more mainstream alternative to Trump and Cruz, though he’ll need to stay competitive in Iowa in order to maintain his viability.

Rubio, who previously lashed back at criticism, adopted the same reflective tone as many of his rivals on Monday, telling NBC that Cruz “has a very strong ground game.” He dismissed attacks against him as “politics as usual.”

The campaigns were anxiously keeping an eye on the weather. A snowfall forecast to start Monday night appeared more likely to hinder the hopefuls in their rush out of Iowa than the voters.

Republicans John Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush were all spending Monday night in New Hampshire — not only to get a jump on the weather but also on their competitors in a state with voters who are expected to be friendlier to more traditional GOP candidates.

Speaking in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, Christie urged voters to back a candidate they believe “symbolizes what this country stands for.”

Turnout was expected to be strong.

While both parties caucus on the same night, they do so with different rules.

Republicans vote by private ballot. The state’s 30 Republican delegates are awarded proportionally based on the vote.

Democrats form groups at caucus sites, publicly declaring their support for a candidate. If the number in any group is less than 15 percent of the total, they can either bow out or join another viable candidate’s group.

Those final numbers are awarded proportionately, based on statewide and congressional district voting, determining Iowa’s 44 delegates to the national convention.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Among GOP rivals to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio has most cash

Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie, the four Republican candidates in a showdown for their party’s traditional supporters, closed last year with about as much money in the bank combined as Ted Cruz, the conservative insurgent they hope to topple.

Then there’s Donald Trump, the celebrity businessman who has just begun to flex his billion-dollar bank account, lending his campaign $10.8 million from his personal wealth late last year.

The Republican candidates seeking to challenge Trump and Cruz at the top of the field were in varying degrees of financial distress at the end of 2015, fundraising reports filed Sunday night show, with Rubio in the best position to move forward. Together, as the calendar flipped to 2016, the foursome had $21.6 million left in the bank, while Cruz had almost $18.7 million at his disposal.

With voting beginning Monday in Iowa, and continuing next week in New Hampshire, Rubio, Bush, Kasich and Christie were running low on time — as well as money — in their efforts to rise. Should one or more of them continue on after New Hampshire, they’ll face a cost-intensive primary calendar that demands travel among some two dozen states and advertising in some of the country’s priciest media markets before March 15.
Of the four, Rubio, a Florida senator, led the money chase in the final three months of the year, collecting $14.2 million and ending with $10.4 million in the bank. What’s more, he was on the upswing, having more than doubled his fundraising pace from earlier in the year. In total, he collected $39.5 million in 2015.

That’s more than Bush’s annual total. And the former Florida governor’s fundraising fortunes appear to be moving in the opposite direction as Rubio’s.

He raised just $7.1 million between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, about what his haul had been in the preceding fundraising quarter. He closed the year with about $7.6 million in the bank. He had detected a cash crisis in the fall and retrenched his national plan to focus almost exclusively on New Hampshire.

Yet in that state, where voters weigh in Feb. 9, there are two others who also have gone all-in: Kasich, the Ohio governor, and Christie, the New Jersey governor. Those candidates have struggled to gain traction among donors, their fundraising reports show.

Kasich and Christie each raised about $3 million in between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. Kasich closed out the year with about $2.5 million in cash, and Christie with just over $1 million.

Kasich’s allies were eager to portray his financial prospects as improving. Outside groups supporting his bid said they’ve landed $4 million in checks from six donors in the past few weeks, a period of time not covered by the reports filed Sunday.

Cruz, by contrast, has proved an adept fundraiser. For the year, he raised about $47 million. His most recent report showed 42 percent of that came from contributors giving $200 or less, people who can continue to replenish his treasury. Donors are limited to $2,700 apiece for the primary contest.

That small-donor rate is far better than those of Rubio, Bush, Kasich and Christie.

On the opposite end of giving, the outside groups known as super political action committees also are displaying the effects of a crowded Republican primary. Super PACs can accept unlimited donations but cannot take directions from the candidates they’re helping.

Some of these big donors are spreading their largess — splitting much-needed funding among some of the candidates’ super PACs.

Chicago investment manager David Herro is a prime example.

Herro gave $50,000 in July to America Leads, the super PAC supporting Christie. But in November, he gave $150,000 to Conservative Solutions PAC, which supports Rubio. His support swung back to Christie in December, though, when he gave Christie’s super PAC another $250,000.

Hedge fund manager Seth Klarman also split his money between super PACs for Christie and Rubio. Klarman gave $250,000 to Conservative Solutions PAC in early December. Later that month, he wrote a $100,000 check to America Leads.

New York investment banker Herbert Allen had perhaps the quickest turnaround in support. He gave $50,000 on Dec. 17 to America Leads, then the next day gave $50,000 to New Day for America, the super PAC boosting Kasich.

Julian Robertson, a hedge-fund billionaire, gave $1 million to Bush’s super PAC in June and $25,000 to a pro-Kasich group in August. Chris Cline, a coal executive, gave $500,000 to Rubio’s Conservative Solutions PAC in September, four months after he gave Bush’s Right to Rise $1 million through a limited liability company.

Another multiplayer, Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade, and his wife, Marlene, have cut checks to groups helping Bush, Christie, Rubio and Cruz — as well as several who are no longer in the race.

Stanley Hubbard, a billionaire Minnesota broadcast executive who doesn’t want to see Trump or Cruz at the top of the ticket, said he would spend major money backing any of the four mainstream candidates — if only one would rise to the top.

“If we get someone who really has a chance of doing something, I’m ready,” Hubbard told The Associated Press.

There are another six Republicans also vying for the nomination, and most of them saw depleted campaign coffers as of Dec. 31.

Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who won the Iowa caucuses in 2012, closed out the year with just $43,000 cash on hand and more than $16,000 in debts to pay. The 2008 GOP Iowa winner, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, had less than $134,000 at the end of December — and $50,000 in debts.

Cash flow could be issue for 4 GOP contenders seeking boost from New Hampshire

Money may be growing tight for four Republican presidential hopefuls clustered under Donald Trump and Ted Cruz,  just when they’re about to need it the most.

Financial reports coming out Sunday will show who began the year with enough cash to put their long-range campaign plans into motion. For Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich, the aim is a strong showing in New Hampshire on Feb. 9 that power-boosts them deep into primary season. Marco Rubio‘s imperative is to do well enough in the first four states’ votes that he can make a sustained climb in the following weeks.

That sort of long slog would be costly because it involves travel across the two dozen states that hold contests on or before March 15. And some of those states, including Virginia, Florida and Ohio, have expensive advertising markets.

“If you’re going to proceed after New Hampshire, you’re absolutely going to need considerable funds,” said Fred Malek, who has helped four decades of Republican presidential candidates raise money. “The pace of the primaries builds up rapidly. It’s far better to already have the cash on hand rather than have to ramp up.”

The financial health of the campaigns of Christie, Kasich, Bush and Rubio is critically important because they’re competing not only with each other, but with Trump, a billionaire who has vowed to spend whatever it takes to win, and Cruz, who began the year with $19 million in the bank, an amount that probably exceeds most of his rivals. The foursome is considered to be competing for mainstream Republicans in a campaign that has seen Trump and Cruz most effectively tap populist anger and disdain for the establishment.

In addition to the candidates, the outside political groups known as super PACs helping them must turn in progress reports on their fundraising and spending Sunday.

Stanley Hubbard, a billionaire Minnesota broadcast executive, said he’s poised to write a large check to a super PAC backing any one of his preferred candidates, Rubio, Christie and Bush, among others.

“If we get someone who really has a chance of doing something, I’m ready,” he said. “Someone just needs to rise to the top.”

Asked whether he’s confident anyone will have enough money to compete with Trump or Cruz, he said: “No, I do not feel confident. But I’m hopeful.”

There are signs that Rubio could be facing a cash crisis.

After his campaign began leasing corporate jets and hiring dozens of additional employees at the end of the year, it recently downsized its advertising plans in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, according to advertising tracker Kantar Media’s CMAG. His campaign said it would air a 30-minute Rubio town hall over the weekend on several Iowa TV stations. Federal broadcast filings show that sets him back at least $12,000.

On Friday, Rubio acknowledged the obvious, telling reporters he’s not going to be the candidate with the most campaign cash. He also said he thinks his campaign has spent money wisely, building up staffing slowly, and trimming the ad buy to save money.

For Bush, the budget crunch arrived in October, when a fundraising shortfall — combined with the realization that the primary could last well into 2016 — prompted him to narrow what had been a large national campaign to focus squarely on New Hampshire.

“It’s super hard to raise money,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a New York-based top fundraiser for Bush. “We’ve knuckled down to the new reality.” But he said the Bush finance team is working furiously and “generating cash every day for the campaign.”

Judging by their ad buys, Christie and Kasich haven’t been reaping much contributor cash, either.

Even as they barnstorm New Hampshire, they’ve each spent only about $500,000 on commercials there, CMAG shows. That’s less than retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has paid little mind to New Hampshire.

Christie campaign strategist Mike DuHaime said he expects “a new influx” of cash if Christie performs well in New Hampshire and at least some of his competitors drop out. But under several scenarios, all four candidates could think they’ve done well enough to continue on.

Come Sunday, fundraising reports answer the question which of the four is best financially prepared to do so.

As of Sept. 30, the last time the campaigns had to report, Christie had collected $4.2 million for the year, Kasich $4.4 million, Rubio $15.5 million and Bush $24.8 million.

Previous filings also hinted at a fundraising challenge facing them: They’re struggling to connect with low-dollar donors who can give again and again, replenishing campaign treasuries if the candidates survive deep into the primaries.

For Christie, Bush and Kasich, people giving $200 or less were barely a blip in their fundraising totals. About 20 percent of Rubio’s operation is supported that way, compared with 42 percent of Cruz’s.

That could be why all four lean heavily on super PACs to communicate with voters through paid media. While campaigns can raise no more than $2,700 from each donor for the primaries, super PACs can — and do — take million-dollar checks.

These outside groups have accounted for almost 90 percent of the $129 million in radio and television ads aired by the four establishment Republicans, according to CMAG.

But super PACs can only do so much, as Scott Walker and Rick Perry can attest. Both had well-funded outside efforts in their corner, but folded up their presidential bids when their campaigns couldn’t raise enough money to keep going.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Stage set for chaos as New Hampshire primary looms

Uncertainties are mounting in New Hampshire as Republican presidential candidates fail to sway the state’s many fence-sitters one way or the other, despite months of outreach by the various campaigns.

More than 40 percent are not registered with any political party, giving them the power to choose which party they’d like to vote with come Feb. 9.

Seeking to emerge as the establishment contender against billionaire Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, four of those candidates — John Kasich, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush — are scrambling to find anything that will set them apart. With Trump maintaining a commanding lead in the state, the battle has intensified among the rest of the pack as they look to elbow each other out for a second-place finish.

“What the hell is taking so long with you people?” New Jersey Gov. Christie half-joked at a town hall in Portsmouth last week. “I mean, c’mon now!”

Kasich, Ohio’s sitting governor, is the latest to claim momentum in the rollercoaster race, pointing to endorsements from several major New Hampshire newspapers and an uptick in preference polls. Once an afterthought, most polls show Kasich is among the candidates vying for second place.

He’s attracting relatively small crowds, but his rivals are taking no chances. The outside political organization backing Bush, called Right to Rise, has launched television ads declaring Kasich “wrong on New Hampshire issues,” citing his decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio — something New Hampshire has also done.

“You also know that you’re rising when Jeb Bush’s operation starts throwing negative ads at you,” Kasich spokesman Chris Schrimpf said. “Three weeks ago they weren’t spending millions on TV against us.”

The jabs go both ways. Several of Kasich’s top New Hampshire backers scheduled a press conference Friday, right across from Bush’s Manchester campaign office in a clear attempt to steal the former Florida governor’s thunder.

The attacks are coming from all sides. The super PAC backing Rubio, Florida’s junior senator, is bashing nearly every other candidate on the air, while Christie’s campaign sends out emails almost daily highlighting inconsistencies in his opponents’ records.

Some differ in their approach. Christie blatantly goes after his rivals, while Kasich professes positivity, leaving the trash talk to his campaign staff and the outside group backing him.

But Mike Dennehy, a longtime GOP strategist in New Hampshire who is not with any campaign, said it’s a mistake for the candidates to launch their attacks at each other rather than Trump.

“They’re all shooting each other up so much that none of them are going to create any distance between themselves,” Dennehy said. “They’re all going to end up tied for third place between eight and 11 percent, and then they’re doomed.”

And some voters say the negativity is a turnoff.

Judith McKenna, 66, said she emailed the Bush campaign to complain after receiving recorded phone calls promoting his candidacy and “trashing all the other candidates.”

McKenna added that she’s leaning toward Rubio or Christie, whom she’s already seen twice.

Despite having attended multiple town halls and candidate events, she said she’s still undecided — and she’s not alone.

Bruce McCracken, a 66-year-old retired teacher, has seen nine presidential candidates in recent weeks, including Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders. Yet, he’s still mulling whether to vote in the GOP or Democratic primary.

He says Marco Rubio “shows more compassion” than other Republican candidates and feels Kasich’s experience as Ohio governor is a plus. But for now, at least, he’s leaning toward a vote for Sanders — senator in neighboring Vermont.

But if Sanders maintains his comfortable lead in New Hampshire over Clinton, McCracken said he’d rather use his vote in the more unpredictable GOP contest and vote for someone other than Trump.

“You do these calculations in New Hampshire,” he laughed.

Andy Smith, a political scientist and director of the UNH Survey Center, says voters like McCracken, who are unsure which primary to vote in, are relatively unusual.

Not so unusual, however, are voters who wait until the last minute to make up their minds. Data from a recent UNH poll shows that just 31 percent of GOP voters have ‘definitely decided’ on a candidate. And in the 2012 contest, 21 percent of Republican voters didn’t make up their minds until primary day, Smith said.

This late in the game, the candidates wouldn’t mind a little more certainty.

“There’s so many undecided people, and I wish they were all committed to me,” Kasich recently told reporters. “What am I not doing right?”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

For GOP, debate was glimpse of what could have been

For the Republican candidates for president, it was a glimpse of what could have been.

Front-runner Donald Trump‘s boycott of the final debate before the Iowa caucuses created space for his rivals to delve more deeply into their differences on immigration, foreign policy and their approach to governing.

And for some candidates — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in particular — Trump’s absence from the debate stage Thursday night appeared to ease some of the tension created by his sharply personal attacks.

A frequent target of Trump, Bush opened the debate by saying wryly, “I kind of miss Donald Trump; he was a teddy bear to me.”
Iowa voters kick off the 2016 nominating process with Monday’s caucuses, and they’ll provide the first indication of whether Trump’s abrupt decision to skip the debate will have any impact on his standing atop the GOP field. His lead in Iowa had already become more tenuous in recent days, as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz pulled in support from conservative and evangelical voters.

Trump’s decision to pull out of the debate over a feud with host Fox News was a gamble, particularly so close to the state of voting. But having defied political convention throughout his campaign, it was a risk the real estate mogul was willing to take.

He still looked to steal attention away from his rivals with a competing rally elsewhere in Des Moines, an event he said raised $6 million for military veterans.

“When you’re treated badly, you have to stick up for your rights,” Trump said in explaining his boycott. Broadening his point, he said, “We have to stick up for ourselves as people and we have to stick up for our country if we’re being mistreated.”

Trump’s absence put the spotlight on Cruz, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, as well, who needs a strong showing in Iowa in order to stay in the top tier of candidates.

The two senators were confronted with video clips suggesting they had changed their positions on immigration, one of the most contentious issues among Republicans. While each insisted the other had flip-flopped, both denied they had switched their own views on allowing some people in the U.S. illegally to stay.

Cruz accused Rubio of making a “politically advantageous” decision to support a 2013 Senate bill that included a pathway to citizenship, while the Florida senator said his Texas rival was “willing to say or do anything to get votes.”

“This is the lie that Ted’s campaign is built on,” Rubio said. “That he’s the most conservative guy.”

In a rare standout debate moment for Bush, the former Florida governor sharply sided with Cruz in accusing Rubio of having “cut and run” on the Senate immigration bill.

“He cut and run because it wasn’t popular with conservatives,” said Bush, who was more consistent in this debate than in previous outings.

Cruz was put on the spot over his opposition to ethanol subsidies that support Iowa’s powerful corn industry — a position that has long been considered politically untenable for presidential candidates in the state. The Texas senator cast his position as an effort to keep the government from picking economic winners and losers.

With their White House hopes on the line, the candidates worked hard to present themselves as best prepared to be commander in chief and take on terror threats.

Rubio struck an aggressive posture, pledging that as president he would go after terrorists “wherever they are. And if we capture them alive, they are going to Guantánamo.” Rubio also stood by his previous calls for shutting down mosques in the U.S. if there were indications the Muslim religious centers were being used to radicalize terrorists.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — back on the main debate stage after being downgraded to an undercard event because of low poll numbers earlier this month — warned against closing down mosques. A proponent of a more isolationist foreign policy, Paul also raised concerns about the U.S. getting involved militarily in Syria, where the Islamic State group has a stronghold.

The candidates focused some of their most pointed attacks on Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

“She is not qualified to be president of the United States,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said.

Christie is part of a crowded field of more mainstream candidates who have struggled to break through in an election year where Trump, and increasingly Cruz, have tapped into voter anger with the political system. Party leaders have grown increasingly anxious for some of the more traditional candidates to step aside to allow one to rise up and challenge for the nomination.

Asked whether the crowded establishment lane was putting Trump in position to win, Bush said: “We’re just starting out. The first vote hasn’t been counted. Why don’t we let the process work?”

Bush also defended the flurry of critical advertisements his well-funded super PAC has launched against Rubio and other rivals.

“It’s called politics,” Bush said. “That’s the way it is. I’m running hard.”

Bush and Christie, along with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, are looking beyond Iowa and hoping New Hampshire’s Feb. 9 primary jump-starts their campaigns. In an election where a lengthy political resume has been a liability, Kasich defended government’s ability to tackle big problems.

“We serve you,” Kasich said of government officials and voters. “You don’t serve us. We listen to you and then we act.”

Cruz proudly claimed he was “not the candidate of career politicians in Washington.” Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has a small but loyal base in Iowa, said that even though he hasn’t been in government, he’s made plenty of life-and-death decisions as a doctor.

“I don’t think you need to be a politician to tell the truth,” he said.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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