Rivals mock Rubio as the 'Marcobot' after panic in debate
Marco Rubio wilted in the spotlight as he came under sustained fire from rivals in a debate days before a key vote in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Mr Rubio was mocked as "the Marcobot" after a bizarre gaffe in which he repeated the same rehearsed answer four times regardless of the question.
Towards the end of the debate, the usually polished 44-year-old US senator from Florida began sweating and opponents concluded he had "choked".
Mr Rubio finished an unexpectedly strong third last week in Iowa, the first state to vote, and polls have showed him gaining quickly on maverick front-runner Donald Trump ahead of the second vote of the primary campaign in New Hampshire tomorrow.
But his rocky performance gave impetus to Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, and John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, who are all vying with him to become the favoured candidate of the Republican establishment.
Only a few minutes into the debate in New Hampshire, Mr Rubio was savaged by Mr Christie, who said: "Marco simply does not have the experience to be president of the United States. Marco, you have never been involved in a consequential decision. You just simply haven't."
Mr Rubio responded with a non sequitur.
He said: "Let's dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing. He is trying to change this country. When I'm elected president, this will become once again the single greatest nation in the history of the world."
Mr Christie told the audience: "That's the memorised 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him.
"Marco, when you're president, the memorised 25-second speech, where you talk about how great America is, doesn't solve one problem."
Looking flustered, Mr Rubio then began to repeat exactly the same rehearsed speech.
"There it is, there it is," Mr Christie shouted. "The memorised 25-second speech. There it is, everybody."
For the first time in a debate, the crowd began booing and laughing at Mr Rubio, who looked unhappy and even embarrassed. In all, he went on to repeat the same scripted lines four times.
Mr Bush, who was once Mr Rubio's political mentor, joined in the ambush, accusing him of a "natural tendency to pursue ambition".
He said: "Look, let's be clear. Marco Rubio is a gifted, gifted politician, and he may have the skills to be a president of the United States, but we've tried it the old way with Barack Obama, with soaring eloquence, and we didn't get a leader." (© Daily Telegraph, London)