Why Republican candidates are attacking third-place Marco Rubio

WASHINGTON -- It might make little sense at first glance that precious resources are being deployed in the Republican presidential contest to pound the third-place candidate.

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One rival is funding an air campaign, in the form of ads dropping bomblets on Marco Rubio's credibility. Another is smacking him with street-level insults.

The back-alley bruises are coming from the governor of New Jersey, who has been hitting Rubio with insults arguably worse than anything Canadians heard in the last election between the rival party leaders.

"Marco Rubio hasn't accomplished one thing in his career," Chris Christie told MSNBC on Thursday, bashing the young senator as a sheltered bubble boy.

"(All he does is) fix his hair, smile, and give the same speech he's given for the last six years... then he does a driveby 45-minute town hall meeting where he gives the same 60-second canned answers that he gives on the debate stage," he continued.

"Someone who has not done a thing in the United States Senate except skip votes because he says that his votes don't matter anymore -- I mean, why would I want to support that person?"

So why all this animus expended on an alleged lightweight who finished third in Iowa, and whom polls suggest might finish second and possibly third again in New Hampshire?

There may be a method to this mad pile-on.

The old saying about Iowa is that there are only three exits: First place, second, and third. The first two spots went to Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, both detested by the prominent figures in their party.

That precious third spot was held by Rubio -- and it appears the cluster of establishment rivals trailing him -- Christie, Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich -- have decided that their only discernible path to victory involves pounding down Door No. 3.

A survey released Thursday described the prize. The Public Policy poll suggested Rubio would actually lead a three-way race involving Trump and Cruz, if everyone else dropped out.

His rivals aren't letting him take it. In fact, different campaigns have been chatting amongst themselves about their shared interest in taking down the first-term Florida senator, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Christie has been insulting his qualifications. He's also accused Rubio of being too uncompromisingly anti-abortion for a less-religious state like New Hampshire, where the race has shifted.

An old friend, meanwhile, is hammering Rubio not as an ideologue but as the opposite: a flip-flopping phoney.

A political-action committee supporting Bush, his old Florida ally, has taken out at least 218 advertising contracts worth hundreds of ads in the last few days, according to federal filings compiled by the website Political Ad Sleuth. Many are in New Hampshire, and many more are in the next-voting southern states.

If the group's website is any indication, Rubio is target No. 1.

Four of the last five ads about opponents on the Right to Rise committee's YouTube page target Rubio. One highlights his absentee rate in the Senate: "Doesn't show up for work, but wants a promotion."

In another ad, Rubio is a human weathervane: "Just another Washington politician you can't trust."

"Jeb Bush's Super PAC has basically spent $30 million -- a third of its money -- attacking me," Rubio told NBC before the Iowa vote.

"And yet we keep growing and we feel real positive about it."

Other Republicans, meanwhile, have grumbled in the press that Bush's rich friends have done worse than waste money -- that they're damaging the party's hottest young prospect, who represents the Republican party's future.

In a head-to-head matchup against Hillary Clinton, Rubio is the only Republican who's consistently polled ahead of the Democratic front-runner.


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