MANCHESTER, New Hampshire Donald Trump and Marco Rubio could be top targets for rivals' fire on Saturday when seven Republican White House hopefuls take the stage in New Hampshire for their eighth debate, just days before the state's high-stakes primary.
Billionaire Trump held a wide lead in polls in New Hampshire, with U.S. Senator Rubio of Florida second in a rapid rise ahead of Tuesday's primary, part of the series of contests to pick the nominee for the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Trump and Rubio have taken flak from competitors as candidates launched an all-out offensive across New Hampshire.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush attacked Trump for using profane language and brought out his mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush, who accused Trump of misogyny over his criticisms of a Fox News anchor.
Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also went after Rubio. All three are vying for the favor of establishment Republicans in New Hampshire.
Christie on Friday released videos mocking Rubio for appearing scripted on the campaign trail. And Bush, a former mentor to Rubio, unveiled an ad showing Rick Santorum, who left the race this week and endorsed Rubio, apparently struggling to name any of the senator's accomplishments.
Rubio finished third in Iowa on Monday, behind U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Trump. On Friday, Rubio won the endorsement of another ex-candidate, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.
Ohio Governor John Kasich, who will also participate in Saturday's debate, argued that Republicans won't win elections by bashing each other. Kasich has placed much of his White House hopes on New Hampshire, where he held his 100th town hall event on Friday.
"Part of the campaign is not just about how you trash somebody else. The way you win a campaign is what you're for, your heart and your brain, that's what it's really all about," Kasich said.
But it could be a tough message to absorb in a tense week. Trump, Cruz and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson have engaged in a three-way stand-off since Cruz's surprise Iowa win. Trump called for the results to be nullified over reports that Cruz supporters told caucus-goers Carson was dropping out.
A new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll found Trump leading in New Hampshire with 29 percent, followed by Rubio and Kasich.
Not on stage will be businesswoman Carly Fiorina, who failed to meet host network ABC's requirements to qualify. Fiorina released an open letter excoriating the debate process as "broken."
(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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Updated Date: Feb 06, 2016 23:05 PM