Marco Rubio came under the sharpest attacks yet of his presidential campaign Tuesday morning from two GOP establishment rivals and their teams, who are accusing him of neglecting his duties as senator as he begins a statewide campaign tour across Iowa.
The Florida senator — currently averaging third-place poll showings both nationally and in Iowa — faced new fire from a super PAC supporting Jeb Bush’s presidential bid, which plans to spend more than $1 million attacking his legislative record. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sharply criticized Rubio for his failure to show up in Washington for votes and hearings.
“Dude, show up. Vote. If you don’t want to, quit,” Christie told voters during a town hall meeting in Muscatine, Iowa. The governor regularly criticizes legislators as ineffective and ill-prepared for the presidency, but the attack on Rubio was his sharpest to date.
Christie railed against senators generally: “By definition, they do nothing. They go to Washington and they vote. They’re one of 100. Lots of good men and women there, but they’re not responsible for anything. … We need like a Washington-to-normal people dictionary that converts the words they use that we as regular Americans can understand.”
Christie made his comments Tuesday morning at a coffee shop in Muscatine, Iowa.
Earlier Tuesday, Right to Rise USA, the super PAC backing Bush, announced plans to spend $1.4 million in the next two weeks airing a new anti-Rubio ad across Iowa.
“Days after the Paris attacks, senators came together for a top-secret briefing on the terrorist threat. Marco Rubio was missing — fundraising in California instead,” the ad’s announcer says. “Two weeks later, terrorists struck again in San Bernardino. And where was Marco? Fundraising again in New Orleans.”
“Over the last three years Rubio has missed important national security hearings and missed more total votes than any other senator,” the announcer adds. “Politics first — that’s the Rubio way.”
Right to Rise USA has raised more than $100 million to spend mostly on broadcast ads backing Bush’s campaign, but it has increasingly aimed its sights at the former Florida governor’s rivals, including Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and GOP front-runner Donald Trump. An ad airing in New Hampshire targets all three by suggesting they are too inexperienced to serve as commander-in-chief.
Responding to the ad, aides noted that Rubio attended high-level closed-door briefings as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee after the Paris attacks.
“No other candidate for president has received more classified Intelligence briefings or better understands the threats facing our nation today than Marco,” said Alex Conant, the Rubio campaign spokesman. “It’s sad to see Jeb’s ‘joyful’ campaign reduced to such intellectual dishonesty.”
Bush began the year saying that he would campaign “joyfully” for the presidency.
Rubio does have the worst attendance record of all senators — a point he doesn’t dispute.
A C-SPAN analysis released last week found that Rubio cast votes for just 219 of the 339 recorded Senate roll call votes in 2015 — a 64 percent attendance record, the worst of the five senators who ran for president this year. He spoke on the Senate floor eight times — five percent of the total days the Senate was in session, C-SPAN said.
Rubio’s attendance record by this point of the year prior to an election is worse than that of then-Sen. Barack Obama and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton in 2007. But it’s better than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was virtually absent all of 2007 as he tried to revive his presidential bid.
Rubio has said several times that he is running for president and avoiding the Senate floor because the legislative body isn’t the best way to enact meaningful change.
The most high profile attack on his attendance record came during an October Republican presidential debate, when Bush raised the issue early in the debate. Rubio shot back with a response that many observers believed severely damaged Bush’s attempt at a comeback.
“Someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you,” Rubio told Bush during the debate before recounting how other senators who ran for president with equally or worse attendance records campaigned without similar scrutiny.
Christie is scheduled to hold several events across eastern and central Iowa on Tuesday and Wednesday. Critics quickly noted on Twitter Tuesday that the governor’s public approval ratings in New Jersey have slipped to historic lows as he’s spent more than half of the year outside the state.
And critics also noted that while Bush’s super PAC attacks Rubio for fundraising during closed-door briefings scheduled in Washington, Bush held a campaign fundraiser in Minneapolis on the night of the attack in San Bernardino.
Bush, who by law cannot coordinate with Right to Rise, is scheduled to hold a campaign event later Tuesday in Peterborough, N.H. In recent days, the former Florida governor has made campaign stops in Florida — where he and Rubio trail Trump and Cruz — and has focused mostly on attacking Trump and Clinton.