MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Jeb Bush went after his former pal Marco Rubio Wednesday night in the nationally televised GOP presidential debate. It is the first time the two have publicly clashed since the campaign began, and marks a dramatic split. Bush was once Rubio's good friend and political mentor.
The Wednesday night rift had to do with Rubio's role as a United States Senator, and whether he's been neglecting that job.
"Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work," Bush said, looking directly at Rubio.
Bush was playing off an editorial published in the Sun-Sentinel Wednesday, headlined "Marco Rubio Should Resign, Not Rip Us Off."
The blistering editorial pounded Rubio for chronic absences in the Senate, missing votes and key hearings.
Bush piled on in the debate.
"Just resign and let somebody else take the job," Bush told Rubio. "There are a lot of people in Florida living paycheck to paycheck who need a senator who will fight for them each and every day."
Rubio aimed his criticism, not at Bush, but at the newspaper.
He pointed out that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, who was also a senator, and President Obama, also a senator, missed 60 to 70 percent of Senate votes while they campaigned.
Rubio delivered something of a dagger, noting that the Sun-Sentinel did not call on the Democrats to resign, and in fact endorsed them.
And then Rubio gave the applause line.
"This is another example of the double standard that exists in this country between the mainstream media and the conservative movement," Rubio said. The crowd went wild.
The paper replied it is an equal opportunity critic, taking on conservatives and liberals alike, and made no apology for calling out Rubio.
"It's the newspaper's opinion, as expressed in the editorial, that Senator Rubio has just not done the job that Floridians hired him to do," Sun-Sentinel Editor Howard Saltz said on Thursday.
Rubio took the high ground Wednesday night, refusing to be drawn into a protracted exchange with Bush over the Senate attendance issue.
"I will continue to have tremendous respect and admiration for Governor Bush," Rubio said.
Rubio told Bush someone gave him bad advice to launch an assault.
"The only reason you're doing it now is because we're running for the same position and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you," Rubio told Bush. Again, big cheers from the audience.
Scorekeepers say Marco outscored Jeb Wednesday night.
"Marco Rubio won that exchange, clearly," said Dr. Sean Foreman, professor of political science at Barry University. "I don't think Jeb Bush should be engaging Rubio in that way but, if so, he needs to be more forceful about it."
Foreman said if a politician is going to attack an opponent, he needs to come armed with compelling information and emotion.
On CBS This Morning, Rubio demurred when told he might have scored a hit in the debate.
"What do you think you achieved last night?" asked host Charlie Rose. "Some are saying this may have been a moment for you."
Rubio declined to discuss his performance in the debate or Bush's broadsides.
"Look, my campaign is not going to be about attacking anybody else," Rubio said. "My campaign is going to be about who I am, and what's important for our country and the future of America."
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