Florida Sen. Marco Rubio started out strong in the first GOP debate Thursday night as he invoked genuine passion while drawing from his narrative as the son of Cuban immigrants. His composure was all the more compelling on a stage polluted with insults and bombast.

Rubio's campaign has tried to position him as the Barack Obama of the Republican Party: young, working-class and full of vision. He did just this with his remarks Thursday night, comparing his personal experience with Hillary Clinton's.

"How is [Clinton] going to lecture me on student loans, when I owed $100k until 4 years ago?" he said, adding that Clinton would not be able to tell him about living paycheck-to-paycheck as he did growing up.

Moderators pointed to Rubio's lack of experience. Rubio wasn't even the most experienced Florida politician on the stage. Rubio acknowledged that former Gov. Jeb Bush may have more executive experience, but that the next president needs more than that.

"This election cannot be a resume competition," Rubio said. If it is, he said, "Clinton will win."

Pundits said Thursday's debate may not win Rubio the nomination, but it could certainly hamper his run if he stumbled. Rubio started off his campaign strong in the polls, following behind Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Bush in June, but he trailed in eighth place in Sunday's Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.



Bush, Walker and Rubio were joined on stage by real estate mogul Donald Trump, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

The 10-candidate lineup was based on the candidate's performance in five recent national polls. Only 10 of the 17 Republican candidates were chosen. 

The debate was broadcast by Fox at 9 p.m. EDT Thursday in Cleveland.