Senator Marco Rubio's poor performance in the New Hampshire primary left the once favorite establishment Republican candidate on the ropes Tuesday, with one Rubio aide reportedly saying that voters can expect a "bloodbath" in South Carolina against former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Rubio finished fifth in New Hampshire a week after a strong third-place finish in Iowa. Rubio finished fifth in New Hampshire a week after a strong third-place finish in Iowa. His result in the Midwestern state had been boosted by an exceptional debate performance that managed to swing many undecided Iowans his way.
The opposite occurred in New England.
During his speech to supporters in Manchester on Tuesday night, Rubio blamed his last debate performance – panned by pundits and opponents alike – for the mediocre showing in the nation's first primary contest.
"I know many people are disappointed. I'm disappointed with tonight," Rubio told supporters. "I want you to understand something. Our disappointment tonight is not on you, it's on me. It's on me. I did not do well on Saturday night, so listen to this: That will never happen again."
The real race in New Hampshire's GOP primary was always for second place. As predicted by polls leading into Tuesday, Donald Trump handily won with 35 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, Rubio was thought to have momentum following Iowa as the establishment alternative to the outsider billionaire real estate mogul.
That status changed heading into South Carolina, Nevada and the Super Tuesday states after a dismal 5th place finish in New Hampshire.
As the leading outsider candidate, Trump continues to enjoy the benefits of four Republican establishment candidates fighting among themselves and splitting the centrist vote. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who finished second with 16 percent, followed by Sen. Ted Cruz, Bush, Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – combined won 57 percent of the votes compared to Trump's 35 percent.
Fox News exit polls showed that, unlike in Iowa where late voters went for Cruz and Rubio, in New Hampshire late voters went to Trump and Kasich.
The focus now shifts to South Carolina, where Florida native sons Bush and Rubio will try to deliver a fatal blow to each other's campaigns. The two men have put their friendship aside in order to batter each other brutally for most of the campaign.
“South Carolina is going to be a bloodbath. Jeb and his people wanted to attack Marco in New Hampshire about abortion? Let’s see how that plays down there. And then there’s Common Core,” a Rubio adviser told Politico.
Despite Rubio's fifth place finish, Tuesday night did offer a silver-lining for the 44-year-old senator. Rubio did well among young voters in New Hampshire, and more voters saw him as the most likely GOP candidate to win come November.
He also stands a close third in terms of delegate count with seven. Trump leads 17, and Cruz is second at 10.
The question now is whether Rubio can bounce back with an incredible debate performance on Saturda yin Greenville, S.C., and thereby negate his poor debate performance last time.
Both Rubio's super PAC, Conservative Solutions, and Bush's Right to Rise super PAC figure to be highly active between now and the Republican South Carolina primary on Feb. 20.