Past and present Republican governors running for president dominated the Saturday night debate, the last before the New Hampshire primary, overshadowing front-runners.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie provided what is being called the night’s most memorable moments when he attacked Florida senator Marco Rubio, repeatedly and ferociously.
Ohio’s John Kasich, whose poll numbers are surging in New Hampshire — he is third now — took every opportunity to present his “positive” message, which put him on everyone’s winner list.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush turned in his best debate performance yet, according to multiple experts and pundits, attacking both Rubio and front-runner Donald Trump.
It was the “revenge of the governors”, said a news anchor at ABC News network, which was hosting the debate. And the phrase caught on, specially on social media.
It was not a good night for the front-runners.
Rubio, whose numbers have surged since the Iowa caucuses propelling him to the third position nationally and second in New Hampshire, had a rough night.
Christie went after the first chance he got, attacking the first-time senator for running without qualification or experience and as someone who doesn’t stand up for his convictions.
“You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable,” Christie, a former federal prosecutor, turning to face Rubio. “You just simply haven’t.”
Rubio tried to hit back, and tried to direct the exchange away from himself with a scripted attack on President Barack Obama, which he kept repeating. Christie was waiting.
“There it is,” Christie jumped on him, renewing his attack on the senator for his scripted electioneering. “There it is. The memorised 25-second speech. There it is, everybody.”
Bush hit out at Rubio too. But his prized target was Trump.
He attacked Trump, who leads the national and New Hampshire polls, for trying to evict an elderly widow from her land near a casino he once owned in Atlantic City, New Jersey to make way for a parking lot.
“Well, let me just — you know, he wants to be a tough guy,” Trump said, jeeringly as he has tried to paint Bush as “low-energy” and “weak”, “… and it didn’t work very well”.
Bush shot back, “How tough it is to take away property from an elderly woman?” Trump was rattled and vented his anger on a section of the audience booing him, calling them “donors”.
Ted Cruz, who is Number 2 in national polls but is running fourth in New Hampshire, had a rough start, when he was made to publicly apologise to Ben Carson, a rival for the party ticket.
Cruz’s campaign had wrongly sent out an email during the Iowa caucuses earlier this week that Carson was leaving the race and that his supporters should support Cruz instead.
The Texas senator apologised to Carson the next day, but many, including the retired neurologist and Trump, have said that the outcome of the caucuses would have been different otherwise.