Trump, Rubio Likely Targets in 8th Republican Debate

MANCHESTER, N.H. (Reuters) —

Elections repuiblicanDonald Trump and Marco Rubio could be top targets for rivals’ fire on Saturday when seven Republican White House hopefuls take the stage in New Hampshire for their eighth debate, just days before the state’s high-stakes primary.

Billionaire Trump held a wide lead in polls in New Hampshire, with Senator Rubio of Florida second in a rapid rise ahead of Tuesday’s primary, part of the series of contests to pick the nominee for the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Trump and Rubio have taken flak from competitors as candidates launched an all-out offensive across New Hampshire.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush attacked Trump for using improper language.

Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also went after Rubio. All three are vying for the favor of establishment Republicans in New Hampshire.

Christie on Friday released videos mocking Rubio for appearing scripted on the campaign trail. And Bush, a former mentor to Rubio, unveiled an ad showing Rick Santorum, who left the race this week and endorsed Rubio, apparently struggling to name any of the senator’s accomplishments.

Rubio finished third in Iowa on Monday, behind U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Trump. On Friday, Rubio won the endorsement of another ex-candidate, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

Trump, Cruz and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson also have engaged in a three-way stand-off since Cruz’s surprise Iowa win. Trump called for the results to be nullified over reports that Cruz supporters told caucus-goers Carson was dropping out.

A Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll on Friday found Trump leading with 29 percent, followed by Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Kasich told reporters on Saturday the debate wasn’t a make-or-break moment in New Hampshire, according to audio shared by his campaign.

“We’re making a sprint to Tuesday. This is where the ground game takes over,” Kasich said.

Not on stage will be businesswoman Carly Fiorina, who failed to meet host ABC’s qualification requirements. Fiorina released an open letter excoriating the debate process as “broken.”

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