Newspaper article International New York Times

G.O.P. Candidates in 3rd Debate Take Sharp Tone

Newspaper article International New York Times

G.O.P. Candidates in 3rd Debate Take Sharp Tone

Article excerpt

In a change from previous debates, the candidates dived into the gritty details of economic plans and entitlement programs, but exchanges grew contentious and political friendships were strained.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida coolly rebuffed attacks from his onetime mentor, Jeb Bush, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas emerged as a champion of social conservatives at the latest Republican presidential debate, as both men found their voices after months of lower-key performances.

Testiness and sharpened jabs infused the night on Wednesday as struggling candidates like Mr. Bush, the former governor of Florida, and Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio ripped into their less experienced rivals and tried to portray them as unqualified for the White House.

The free-for-all of verbal assaults reflected the new volatility in a race that Donald J. Trump dominated for months. It appears to be shifting in favor of candidates like Mr. Rubio and Ben Carson as the first nominating contests near and voters start paying closer attention to the field.

Mr. Rubio, a first-term senator, had the best night of his campaign, showing the political talent that many insiders had long seen in him. He and Mr. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon now leading in several polls, faced the toughest questions but emerged largely unscathed, with Mr. Rubio in particular winning strong applause from the audience at the University of Colorado Boulder for his confident performance and deft counterpunches.

Mr. Bush, under great pressure to have a strong debate that would reassure his supporters and change the trajectory of his struggling campaign, had another lackluster night, raising the possibility that uncommitted donors would write him off and embrace candidates like Mr. Rubio.

Frustration permeated the Bush camp: Danny Diaz, Mr. Bush's campaign manager, told reporters that he had complained to CNBC, the cable network hosting the debate, that Mr. Bush was receiving too few questions from the moderators.

Mr. Kasich made a strong impression by showing new aggressiveness from the debate's first moments, taking on Mr. Trump and Mr. Carson in hopes of improving his dismal standing in voter surveys. Mr. Trump, bent on recapturing his lead in the polls from Mr. Carson, was more restrained in his mockery of his rivals than in the previous two debates, and he even faded into the background for long stretches.

It was a night that saw a reversal of fortunes: Mr. Trump and Mr. Bush have been in the campaign spotlight for months as they jousted with each other and asserted their financial dominance in the race, but both were overshadowed Wednesday by the commanding performances of Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz.

Mr. Rubio, an ally of Mr. Bush when he was governor of Florida and Mr. Rubio was the State House speaker, found himself under sharp attack over his reputation for chronic absenteeism in Washington. …

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