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New Hampshire Republican Debate: Candidates Clash Days Before Primary

The remaining Republican presidential candidates met Saturday night for their final debate ahead of Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich were on stage and unlike past debates, there was no earlier "undercard" discussion because the field has grown smaller after Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum all suspended their campaigns following poor showings in last week's Iowa caucuses.

Carly Fiorina, who remains in the race, did not qualify under the rules set by the debate organizers. Read the recap below for all the news and analysis:

Recap: The GOP New Hampshire Debate

Rubio Aides Defend Debate Performance

Marco Rubio spokesman Alex Conant and strategist Todd Harris faced questions from reporters about whether Chris Christie got the better of him during Saturday's debate. Their repeated take: The three governors needed to destroy Rubio tonight, they took their best shot, but they came up short. Harris said the campaign raised three times more tonight than during any other debate. They argued that rather than being thrown off by Christie, Rubio had strong moments the rest of the night on national security and abortion.

Christie Comes Out Swinging Against Rubio at Debate 2:44

"Every other campaign said before this debate started that they had one singular goal tonight, which was to take out Marco Rubio, Harris said. "They threw their best shots, and they didn't do it. There was a big rough and tumble at the start, Marco got stronger every single minute and by the end of the debate, we raised more money during this debate than we raised during any other."

On Rubio's repeated attack on Obama -- something for which Christie criticized the senator -- Harris said, "What voters saw was that Marco was given repeated opportunities to hit Obama and he did … that's what Republican primary voters are looking for. They're looking for someone who can unite the party, they're looking to someone who won't take every opportunity to bash fellow Republicans."

Carrie Dann

How High Are the Stakes for Tonight's Debate?

Marco Rubio took very tough hits from Chris Christie, Donald Trump tried to run out the clock, and Ben Carson didn't shy away from charging Ted Cruz's campaign with engaging in shady tactics during the Iowa caucus.

Watch the Best Lines of the Republican Debate 3:35

So, will any of it matter?

According to New Hampshire exit polls from 2008 and 2012, debates do indeed play a major role in how voters make their picks in the state.

In 2012, 52 percent of New Hampshire GOP voters said the debates were "very important" to their decision about who to support. In 2008, that number was 41 percent.

In both cycles, only about one in six voters said the debates didn't really matter to their decision about which candidate they eventually backed.

Particularly in a state where a significant chunk of voters choose their candidate in the final days before the election, the stakes are certainly high for a debate so close to Decision Day.

Andrew Rafferty

Candidates Make Super Bowl Picks

The day before the Super Bowl, Jeb Bush reminded voters that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is a supporter.

Candidates made their picks for Sunday's game between the Broncos and Carolina Panthers. Four candidates chose the Panthers, two chose Denver, and one was undecided.

Manning has donated to Bush's campaign, prompting Marco Rubio to switch his winning pick.

And factoring in to the decision for Ted Cruz is the upcoming Feb. 20 GOP primary in South Carolina.

Here's who the candidates chose.

  • Kasich - Carolina
  • Bush - Denver
  • Rubio - Carolina (after learning that Manning is a Bush donor).
  • Trump - Carolina
  • Cruz - Carolina (with an "eye towards Feb. 20")
  • Carson - Boldly predicts one of the two teams will be victorious
  • Christie - Denver

Leigh Ann Caldwell

Republicans Are Pro-Life But Differ in Details

Rubio: He said Hillary Clinton's abortion position is "extreme" because she supports abortion on the baby's due date. (It's unclear if that is truly Clinton's position. We're checking!)

Rubio: Democrats are Extremists on Abortion 1:33

The only exception Rubio supports is to save the life of a mother. He doesn't support it in instances of rape or incest.

Bush and Christie disagree with Rubio.

Bush: "I believe in exceptions." Those include instances of rape and when the life of the mother is at risk.

Christie: Also an abortion opponent but also believes in exceptions. "if a woman has been raped, she should be able to terminate" a pregnancy. He also said incest is an exception, saying that the woman has rights if "she has been violated."

UPDATE on Rubio's claim regarding Clinton's position from our incredible Tim Russert fellow Marianna Sotomayor:

"Hillary Clinton has never blatantly said that she supports abortion even on the last day of pregnancy. What she has said is that there is no restriction on abortion that she supports, which is probably what Rubio is capitalizing on. If she says she would support 'any' abortion, then technically she could support an abortion on a baby's due date. But again, she's never blatantly said that."
"On the issue of late term abortions--which came up last year when the Senate was contemplating a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks--Clinton said that she would 'hate to see the government interfering' in late term abortions, especially since they are usually due to medical necessity.'" (Thanks Marianna!)

Cruz and Trump Oppose Ransom, Negotiations to Free U.S. Hostages

Both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump said they oppose negotiating with terrorists or paying ransoms to free U.S. hostages.

The question has particular resonance in New Hampshire, where journalist James Foley hailed from. ISIS beheaded Foley in August 2014 and published a video of the brutal act online.

Cruz said he empathized with the Foley family, who has called for families of hostages to be able to raise money for ransoms. But Cruz said "there's a reason we don't negotiate with terrorists." Cruz also denounced prisoner swaps, including the one that freed U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Berdahl, who was held captive by the Taliban for five years. Cruz mistakenly referred to Bergdahl as "James Bergdahl"

Trump, likewise, praised the Foley family but agreed that terrorists must not be negotiated with. "You just cannot negotiate this way with terrorists," he said.

The Campaign Ad N.H. Saw the Most Tonight

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire - She might not be on stage for tonight's debate, but New Hampshire viewers saw a fair amount of Carly Fiorina tonight.

This campaign ad aired four times between 7:30 and 10:30 tonight, even though the former Hewlett Packard CEO was excluded from debating tonight because of low polling. She slammed the network's decision, arguing that she'd actually earned more votes than many of candidates whose higher polling kept them on the stage.

Her campaign also complained that the network - which they dubbed "Anybody But Carly" network -- also refused to sell her debate-specific airtime for this very ad. The campaign was surprised to hear from MSNBC that the ad had aired four times tonight on ABC's local affiliate, WMUR, saying it was likely part of a local ad buy that wasn't tied to the actual debate.

Fiorina's ad might have been the most frequent, but it wasn't the only campaign ad to air tonight: Marco Rubio's campaign ad aired twice, while Donald Trump, Gov. John Kasic, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all aired a campaign ad once. Two attack ads aired as well, one going after on Kasich and one targeting Rubio.

Leigh Ann Caldwell

Candidates Vow to Take Care of Vets

Like in every presidential campaign ever, candidates promise to take care of veterans.

Bush: "Fire people that are showing sheer incompetence" at the VA.

Kasich: "(Vets) should get health care anywhere they want to go."

Rubio: "I worked in a bipartisan way" to pass a bill on Congress that allws the VA secretary to fire senior leadership for incompetence.

Andrew Rafferty

In Wake of Zika Virus, Christie Defends Ebola Quarantine Decision

Chris Christie said he would absolutely quarantine someone showing signs of the Zika virus.

The New Jersey governor infamously placed a mandatory quarantine on a nurse returning from Ebola-infected areas of Africa in 2014, even though the nurse tested negative for the disease. That nurse is now suing him.

"This was not something we did it for just the heck of it. We did it because she was showing symptoms," Christie said, defending the decision.

"You make these decisions based on the symptoms, the medicine and the law," he added.

Former pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson, however, expressed skepticism about policies requiring a mandatory quarantine for those returning from areas where viruses are spreading.

"Just wiley niley going out and quarantining people just because they went to Brazil, I don't think that's going to work," Carson said.

Carrie Dann

Women and the Draft

Asked if women should sign up for selective service, Marco Rubio said they should be eligible.

"I do believe that selective service should be opened up for both men and women in case a draft is ever instituted," he said.

Jeb Bush agreed. "I do, I do."

"If women can meet the minimum requirements for combat service, they ought to have the right to do it as well," he said.

Challenged about whether he means that women should be drafted, he replied: "Well, the draft's not going to be reinstituted."

Chris Christie agreed as well, saying that he raised his daughters to believe that self-worth "comes from within."

Leigh Ann Caldwell

Rubio Said He Would Visit A Mosque

Rubio criticized President Obama last week after his visit to a mosque, saying that the president, who was the first president to visit a mosque, suggested that Americans discriminate against Muslims.

While Rubio didn't back down on his criticism of Obama tonight, he did say he WOULD visit a mosque as president.

He then said it's not Muslims who are being discriminated against but Christians. He cited Little Sisters of the Poor who are suing the Obama administration over health care mandate.

Read more about the upcoming Supreme Court case here: Supreme Court to Hear New Challenge to Obamacare

Carrie Dann

"You Have to Weed Out the Problems"

Asked about excessive force and race, Donald Trump praised America's law enforcement, although he acknowledged that there are some "problems" to be weeded out.

"We have to give great respect, far greater than we are giving right now, to our really fantastic police," he said, although he added "we do not want excessive force."

"You're going to have abuse, and you're going to have problems, and you're going to solve the problems and you have to weed out the problems, but the police in this country are absolutely amazing people," he said.

John Kasich pipes up, speaking about his own initiative to connect police and community leaders, saying "we need more win-wins in America."

"We love the police but we've got to be responsive to the people in the communities."

Drug Addiction is Personal for GOP Candidates

The issue of drug addiction is personal for several Republican presidential candidates.

Cruz Shares Family Story on Drug Addiction 2:04

Ted Cruz shared the story of his sister's drug overdose, a family tragedy he shared on the campaign trail this week as well.

Chris Christie has talked about a friend's addiction to prescription drugs.

Carly Fiorina -- who did not make the cut to participate in Saturday's debate -- lost a stepdaughter to drug addiction.

The debate is being held in New Hampshire, which is facing an heroin epidemic. A record 400 people died as a result of drug overdose in the state last year.

Watch: New Hampshire's Heroin Crisis Takes Toll with Record Overdose Deaths

Read More: Candidates Get Personal While Discussing Drug Addiction

Christie: I'm Pro-Life for Birth and With Drug Addiction 1:19
Andrew Rafferty

Cruz Gets Personal Addressing Drug Addiction

Ted Cruz said his half-sister's overdose helped him understand the problems posed by drug addiction, and that a major key to solving the epidemic is to secure America's borders.

"This is a problem, for me, I understand first hand," Cruz said.

His half-sister spent her life addicted to drugs and alcohol, Cruz said. Until her son found her dead from an overdose of pills.

The Texas senator received blowback recently for skipping a New Hampshire forum on heroin, a drug epidemic that has plagued the state.

Cruz said the solution mostly lies at the state and local levels, but that the government must secure the border to stop the narcotics from entering the country from Mexico.

Leigh Ann Caldwell

N.H. Brings About Governor Solidarity

The three remaining governors on the stage tonight are banding together. They're touting their executive experience and hammering the senators as inexperienced neophytes.

Earlier in the debate Christie blasted Rubio for not knowing how to be a leader and get things done - something not required in the Senate, Christie said.

Bush also criticized Rubio, making the same argument. (See blog post below).

Then Bush said he'd trust Christie and Kasich to build roads and bridges, not Washington. Code: He wouldn't trust Cruz or Rubio.

The reason the governors are trying to take down the senators: they are performing well in the polls and the governors have placed much of their stock in New Hampshire. They have to do well there. This is their last best chance.

Read More: Governors Hope Bad Luck Changes in New Hampshire

Where the GOP Candidates Stand on Waterboarding

Ted Cruz said he does not believe waterboarding is torture, but he does not support widespread use of the harsh interrogation tactic. But, Cruz added, "If it were necessary to, say, prevent a city from facing imminent attack … I would use whatever enhanced interrogation" necessary.

Cruz: Waterboarding Is Not Torture 1:22

Donald Trump supports the practice. "I'd bring back waterboarding, and I"d bring back a hell of a lot worse," he said.

Jeb Bush said the practice was used sparingly under his brother's administration, and then pivoted to Guantanamo Bay. The former Florida governor says closing the U.S. prison there would be a "complete disaster."

Marco Rubio didn't indicate his exact position on waterboarding, but he said the U.S. is "not interrogating anybody right now."

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released a scathing report in December 2014 that found waterboarding and other brutal interrogation techniques were not effective in gaining valuable intelligence in the war on terror.

Carrie Dann

"With the Strike of a Pen"

Ted Cruz got a question about how he intends to accomplish his aggressive plans when he has so many strained relationships in Congress.

"Everything done with executive power can be undone with executive power," he said, promising to undo Obama's executive orders on immigration, gun control and Common Core."

He also named his plans for foreign policy and his legislative agenda.

Legislation "can only be done with the people behind you," he added, noting his plans to roll back Obamacare and creating a flat tax.

Andrew Rafferty

Trump on ISIS: Knock the Hell Out of the Oil

Donald Trump said the U.S. must "knock the hell out of the oil" to defeat ISIS and then go after the Islamic militants "banking systems."

"We're doing little pin pricks," Trump said of the current U.S. strategy.

"I said bomb the oil and take the oil," the real estate mogul repeated. "Knock the hell out of the oil, take the oil"

On the campaign trail, Trump has often said strikes against ISIS-held oil fields is the key to stopping the group's spread. The revenues they get from oil, Trump said, has resulted in "tremendous amounts of banking systems."

Trump predicted ISIS could last for about a year "on all the wealth they have accumulated."

Leigh Ann Caldwell

Ben Carson Takes Easy Out on Libya

When asked if he would restart airstrikes in Libya, Carson takes the easy out, saying only if the joint chiefs and military commanders thought it would work.

That's the stock answer for any politician on foreign policy when they don't have an answer or don't want to state their position.

Carrie Dann

Cruz Defends "Carpet Bombing"

Asked again about his proposal to "carpet bomb" ISIS, Cruz insisted that he wants to use "overwhelming air power" to defeat the terror group.

"When I say saturation carpet-bombing, that is not indiscriminate," saying that he would target locations like oil facilities and roads and bridges going in and out of Raqqa.

"We should use overwhelming force, kill the enemy and get the heck out," he said.

Asked if he advocates for loosening the rules of engagement against ISIS, he replied "Absolutely, yes."

Leigh Ann Caldwell

Shocker: Republicans Oppose Raising Taxes

The moderators asked about a recent statistic that found 68 percent of Americans support raising taxes on millionaires. At least three candidates disagree with the majority of Americans.

Rubio: "I don't know of any problem in American that's going to be fixed with a tax increase."

Bush: "I'd like to grow more millionaires." Like in a garden?

"Another tax, another mandate makes it harder for people to rise up," Bush added.

Christie: He looked straight into the camera and said this to the 68 percent: "You're wrong."

New Jersey tried it and lost "$70 billion in wealth" because it left the state, Christie said.

"That money will leave the United States as well," he added. "Let NJ be the canary in the coalmine."