BEDFORD, N.H. – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie launched a fresh and sharply personal broadside here Tuesday against opponent Marco Rubio, charging that the Florida senator who surged to a strong third-place finish in Monday’s Iowa Republican caucuses was “the boy in the bubble.”
Christie questioned Rubio’s toughness, intelligence and even his manhood, telling reporters that he thought Rubio was running a campaign that is “constantly scripted” by his handlers while ducking tough questions about his record from journalists and New Hampshire voters.
“Maybe he’ll do more than 40 minutes on a little stage telling everybody his canned speech that he’s memorized,” Christie told reporters. “This isn’t a student council election, everybody. This is an election for president of the United States. Let’s get the boy in the bubble out of the bubble, and let’s see him play for the next week in New Hampshire. I’m ready to play, and I hope he is.”
Christie teed up a face-to-face confrontation in Saturday’s ABC debate, the final such event before the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary, where both candidates are competing for similar mainstream Republican voters.
In the Iowa caucuses, Christie finished near the bottom of the pack with 2 percent, while Rubio beat expectations by finishing third with 23 percent, just short of Donald Trump, the second-place finisher.
Christie criticized Rubio’s speech in Iowa Monday night, saying he sounded too triumphant.
“I listened to Marco’s speech last night. You would’ve thought he won,” Christie said. “Saying it doesn’t make it so. He’s got to come up here and he’s got to compete and he’s got to be under the microscope — and it’s going to be a very interesting week for him, I can assure you that.”
Christie said Rubio should hold regular news conferences this week in New Hampshire and linger at his town hall events for extended questioning by voters.
“It’s time for him to man up and step up and stop letting all of his handlers write his speeches and handle him,” Christie said. Talking to reporters, Christie added, “If he wants to sit here and answer your tough questions about his flip-flops on immigration, if he wants to answer your tough questions about his lack of record and experience, if he wants to answer your questions about why he ran away from his own immigration bill when it got too hot, I’m fascinated to hear his answers.”
Rubio campaign spokesman Joe Pounder responded, saying in a statement: "No amount of hot air or made-up facts can distract from Chris Christie's liberal record of supporting Common Core, gun control, abortion rights, Planned Parenthood, and Obama's liberal judicial picks. Marco is the only candidate who can unite conservatives and beat Hillary Clinton."
Christie and Rubio are two of four GOP establishment candidates competing aggressively in New Hampshire. The other two are former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Christie voiced disdain for Bush as well, noting how much money his campaign and allied super PAC, Right to Rise, spent on his behalf in Iowa.
“Jeb Bush spent $15 million and got 3 percent,” Christie said. “I spent $500,000 between all our different efforts and got 2 percent. … I think you’d rather have me manage your money.”
Christie added, “I’ve got to tell you the truth. If there’s depression in the land, I’m sure it’s over there.”
Christie insisted he was not disappointed by his 2 percent finish in Iowa and seemed to dismiss the state’s caucuses as not significant in the national battle for the nomination.
Iowa Republicans, he said, “haven’t predicted a president right in a long time. I don’t remember a President Huckabee, a President Santorum, and it’s not going to be a President Cruz.”