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Republican candidates play rough on the debate stage

By Ann Marie Awad   |   Feb. 6, 2016 at 5:48 PM
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MANCHESTER, N.H., Feb. 6 (UPI) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush didn't pull any punches in Saturday night's GOP presidential debate on ABC News.

Christie came out strong against Sen. Marco Rubio R-Fla., in the beginning of the debate, backing up criticisms that Rubio is inexperienced and that he is "the boy in the bubble."

Rubio said the remarks were untrue, and pivoted to claims that President Obama did not know what he was doing.

"Let's dispel this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing, he knows exactly what he's doing," Rubio said. "It's a systematic effort to change America."

"You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you have to be held accountable," Christie said to Rubio, bringing up Rubio's Hezbollah Sanctions Act. Rubio was not present the day the bill hit the Senate floor for a vote. "That's not leadership, that's truancy."

"Under Chris Christie's governorship of New Jersey, they've been downgraded nine times in their credit rating," Rubio fired back.

Christie responded accusing Rubio of making a "prepared speech." Indeed, Rubio did repeat his remarks about Obama three times. When he started in on a fourth iteration, the crowd booed. "There it is, that memorized, 25-second speech," Christie said.

Rubio came back: "Your state got hit with a massive snowstorm you didn't even want to go back, they had to shame you into going back."

"Is that one of the skills you get as a United States Senator, ESP also?" Christie retorted.

It was just one of the night's high-voltage exchanges.

Carson vs. Cruz

Throughout the week, a feud had been playing out between Ben Carson and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, after rumors that Cruz's campaign left voicemails for supporters on the night of the Iowa caucuses telling them Carson had dropped out of the race. The rumors were confirmed by The New York Times.

Cruz had already apologized to Carson for the tactic, but Carson had said the apology was not enough. Asked about it on the debate stage, Cruz apologized again said CNN mislead his campaign into believing Carson had dropped out.

Shortly after Cruz blamed CNN, the network issued a statement calling the allegation "categorically false."

"The Cruz campaign's actions the night of the Iowa caucuses had nothing to do with CNN's reporting," the statement said. "The fact that Senator Cruz continues to knowingly mislead the voters about this is astonishing."

Donald Trump, who had threatened earlier this week to sue Cruz over the voicemails, got the last word in tonight's debate during closing statements. After Cruz touted his win in the Iowa caucuses, Trump said: "That's because you got Ben Carson's votes, by the way."

Trump vs. Bush

Bush has made attacking Trump a cornerstone of his debate strategy, but Saturday's scuffle between the two rose to a new level.

Trump was asked about his use of the power of eminent domain and whether or not voters should be concerned about it. He said eminent domain was a "great" thing and without it, we wouldn't have schools or bridges.

The government's right to seize property for public use is enshrined in the constitution, but Supreme Court decisions have also found a right for the government to seize property and award it to private individuals.

Trump's efforts to use eminent domain to seize the home of widowed homeowner Vera Coking were foiled in 1998 when a court ruled against Trump, who wanted to tear the house down to build a limousine parking lot for the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino.

When Trump finished his response, Bush immediately got a jab in by bringing up the Coking case. Trump tried to defend himself over Bush's interruptions, eventually putting his finger to his lips and telling bush: "Quiet."

The crowd erupted in boos. Trump said those booing were Bush's campaign donors and special interests. The boos intensified, but Trump didn't back down.

"The reason they're not loving me is, I don't want their money. I'm going to do the right thing for the American public," he said. "I don't want, I don't need their money. And I'm the only one up here that can say that."

Winners to be determined

Just two days remain until the New Hampshire primaries. According to RealClear Politics, Trump leads with an average of 30 percent in recent polling. Rubio has edged Cruz out of second place with 16 percent, while Cruz follows close with 12 percent, tied with Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Bush comes in with 9 percent, followed by Christie with 4 percent. Carson is tied with former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, who was excluded from Saturday's debate.

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