Early in the final Republican debate before the New Hampshire primary Tuesday, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie engaged in a heated back and forth debate over whether or not Rubio’s experience in the United States Senate, where he is currently in his first term, has prepared him for the presidency. Christie asserted that his experience as governor shows that he is better able to handle the executive office.
“The people of New Hampshire are smart; do not make the same mistake again,” Christie said of Rubio, drawing a comparison to the records of Rubio and that of President Barack Obama when he ran for office in 2008. Obama was also a first term senator when he became president. In all, there have been sixteen former senators elected president, including Andrew Jackson, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
Things got pretty ugly in the Saturday night debate as Rubio defended his record in the Senate and attacked Christie’s experience. He referenced a massive snowstorm that hit the Eastern seaboard recently and Christie’s seeming hesitance to return to his state from campaigning in New Hampshire to oversee disaster relief efforts in New Jersey.
“He didn’t want to go back,” Rubio said repeatedly, hoping to paint his opponent as a less than stellar governor.
The back and forth continued for several moments in full force, and Rubio seemed to get increasingly flustered. At several points, Christie accused Rubio of sticking to talking points and, when the senator appeared to deviate from pre-made “25 second speeches,” the governor said that his opponent gets nasty when he deviates from the alleged script.
The race has been heated lately after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz pulled off a surprising victory in the Iowa caucuses Monday evening, besting businessman Donald Trump, who had been in first in polls in the state. The performance of Rubio in Iowa, however, was one of the biggest stories to come out of that night. The Floridian nearly tied Trump in Iowa, coming in just under 1 percent behind the billionaire. Christie came in 10th place with less than 2 percent of the caucus vote.
The Trump upset followed what was an increasingly contentious battle between Cruz and the businessman in the weeks heading into the caucuses. The candidates regularly bash the other on the campaign trail, including Trump’s assertion that Cruz isn’t a nice guy and Cruz’s attacks that Trump whines about critical coverage (he even coined the term “ Trumpertantrum ” after the caucuses in reference to claims from his opponent that he had stolen the race in Iowa).
Still, Trump steals the show in New Hampshire, according to averages of polls in the state. He leads second place Rubio by 14.3 points, according to Real Clear Politics , with 30.7 percent of the support there. Cruz is tied for third place with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, each with 12 percent support in the Granite State. Christie registers in sixth place with 4.9 percent of the vote there.