Rubio, Cruz go after Trump in Republican debate

HOUSTON -- Presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz barrelled into Thursday's Republican debate eager to seize one last chance to slow Donald Trump's before next week's Super Tuesday mega-round of voting, and immediately took him on over his immigration positions and more.

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In the night's first exchange, Florida Sen. Rubio accused the billionaire businessman of shifting positions on deportation, hiring people from other countries to take jobs from Americans and being fined for worker violations. Joining in, Cruz criticized Trump for suggesting he alone had "discovered the issue of illegal immigration."

Trump shot back at Rubio: "I hired tens of thousands of people. You've hired nobody."

As for Cruz, Trump took a more personal tack, touting his own ability to get along with others and adding: "You get along with nobody. ... You should be ashamed of yourself."

Both Rubio and Cruz said that Trump had had to pay a $1 million fine for illegal immigration hiring.

In the past, the two had shown little willingness to take on the former reality television star when the national spotlight shines brightest. That changed in the ninth Republican debate of the presidential campaign.

Trump may well become the inevitable Republican after the Super Tuesday votes next week in 11 states, with 595 delegates at stake. So far, after four primary and caucus contests, Trump has 82 delegates, Cruz has 17 and Rubio has 16. A candidate must have 1,237 state delegates to win the Republican nomination at the party's convention this summer.

The debate's location in Houston gave a nod to the primacy of Texas in the Super Tuesday round of voting March 1. There are 595 delegates at stake Tuesday in 11 states, including 155 in Texas.

Thursday's debate, with CNN and Telemundo as partners, is the only one of the season steered to a Spanish-speaking as well as English-speaking audience, so immigration could be a closely watched issue.

Democratic Vice-President Joe Biden said during a visit in Mexico on Thursday that some of the campaign rhetoric about Mexico has been "dangerous, damaging and incredibly ill-advised." Biden said the Republican candidates "do not represent the view of the vast majority of the American people."

Trump won Nevada's presidential caucuses on Tuesday with more than 45 per cent of the vote, scoring his third consecutive primary victory in dominant fashion. Rubio edged Cruz for runner-up for the second straight time, with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- now out of the race -- Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson far off the pace.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has South Carolina mostly to herself two days before the first-in-the-South primary, and she's using it to capitalize on her advantage over Bernie Sanders with black voters.

Clinton played up her allegiance to President Barack Obama at a rally Thursday and pledged to continue fighting for tougher gun laws -- two arguments that resonate with the African-American voters who wield tremendous influence in Saturday's primary.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, was spending Thursday traversing the Great Lakes region in states that hold early March primaries with much whiter electorates than South Carolina and the Deep South, where Clinton maintains a strong enough lead that could help her establish a clear earned-delegate boost in the coming weeks.



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