Bush, Rubio step up jabs as 2016 rivalry heats up

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Breaking Down The Rubio/Bush Feud

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AP) -- Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are on course for a collision.

There once was mutual public deference. But that has eroded as the Florida Republicans battling for the presidential nomination have come to see the other as the main threat to lofty ambitions: Bush claims the party establishment's mantle, Rubio wants to be the party's fresh national face.

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Bush now routinely compares Rubio's background to Barack Obama's before the Democrat became president. Rubio says it's "time to turn the page," a reference that strikes as hard at Bush's long family legacy as it does at Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The rise of GOP outsiders such as Donald Trump and Ben Carson has increased the stakes for Bush and Rubio as they try to become the mainstream alternative. Whoever wins this internal contest will show whether experience or fresh leadership is the bigger priority for GOP centrists.

See photos of Jeb Bush on the campaign trail:

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Jeb Bush on the campaign trail
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Bush, Rubio step up jabs as 2016 rivalry heats up
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a town hall meeting at The Music Man Square, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Mason City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a town hall meeting at The Music Man Square, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Mason City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
GREENVILLE, SC - SEPTEMBER 18: Former Florida Governor and republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks to voters at the Heritage Action Presidential Candidate Forum September 18, 2015 in Greenville, South Carolina. Eleven republican candidates each had twenty five minutes to talk to voters Friday at the Bons Secours Wellness arena in the upstate of South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks to a crowd of football fans during a tailgate party before an NCAA college football game between Georgia and South Carolina Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Athens., Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
FILE - In this Sept. 3, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks to employees at Foss Manufacturing during campaign stop in Hampton. N.H. Bush wanted to run for president as a joyful front-runner, above the fray of the pack. Instead, he heads into the fall campaign as a fighter with a foil: Donald Trump. "I believe that a conservative can win, campaigning with his arms wide open, with joy in his heart, speaking about the hopes and aspirations of the people, being on the side of the people that right now donât see their lives in the future being better than what they have today," Bush said in New Hampshire late last week. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)
MIAMI, FL - JUNE 15: Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush waves on stage as he announces his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination during an event at Miami-Dade College - Kendall Campus on June 15 , 2015 in Miami, Florida. Bush joins a list of Republican candidates to announce their plans on running against the Democrats for the White House. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, poses for a selfie with a student during a town hall at La Progresiva Presbyterian School, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 01: Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a town hall style meeting at La Progresiva Presbyterian School on September 1, 2015 in Miami, Florida. Jeb continues to campaign for the Republican nomination. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, right, talks with students in a third grade class as teacher Judy Elder, left, looks on before a town hall at La Progresiva Presbyterian School, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, speaks at the Defending the American Dream summit hosted by Americans for Prosperity, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a town hall meeting on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 14: Republican presidential hopeful and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (C) talks with members of the media as U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (L) (R-IA) and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R) (R-IA) look on during the Iowa State Fair on August 14, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, throws a baseball on the midway during a visit to the Iowa State Fair, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
FILE - In this Aug. 14, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, talks with Dana Wanken, right, as he works the grill in the Iowa Pork Producers tent during a visit to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa. Scott Walker is counting steps on his FitBit. Bush swears by a paleo diet. Bobby Jindal is a self-proclaimed "gym rat." With long travel days and a fresh slab of cherry pie never far away, the campaign trail is a notoriously unhealthy place to live. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 14: Republican presidential hopeful and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad eat a pork chop on a stick at the Iowa Pork Tent during the Iowa State Fair on August 14, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, holds up two lobsters during a campaign stop at Brown's Lobster Pound in Seabrook, N.H., Friday, Aug. 7, 2015. At right is owner Bruce Brown. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Republican presidential candidates from left, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Ben Carson talk during a break during the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush addresses guests during a town hall style gathering in Gorham, N.H., Thursday, July 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the Maverick PAC conference Friday, July 17, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
AMHERST, NH - JULY 4: Republican Presidential candidate Jeb Bush greets supporters at the 4th of July Parade on July 4, 2015 in Amherst, New Hampshire. Bush is a front-runner in the polls for the 2016 presidential race with 14 other republican candidates. (Photo by Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, left, has a selfie taken with a supporter while participating in the Fourth of July Parade festivities in Amherst, N.H.,,Saturday, July 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signs autographs from the window of a food truck after he formally announced that he would join the race for president with a speech at Miami Dade College, Monday, June 15, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush waits backstage as he is introduced before speaking at the Road to Majority 2015 convention in Washington, Friday, June 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush waves to the crowd as he formally joins the race for president with a speech at Miami Dade College, Monday, June 15, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, speaks at the Florida State University Conference Center in Tallahassee, Fla., Monday, July 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
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From Bush, there's a sense of urgency in his contention that Rubio, in his first Senate term, has not proved his leadership credentials. The ex-governor and his team are frustrated, too, that this shortcoming they attribute to Rubio has not become more of a liability for him.

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It's part of the mantra Bush has repeated since the Republicans' second debate in California a month ago, when Rubio won praise for staying above the fray. He has since drawn nearly even with Bush in national polls, although both remain in the high single digits.

"We've got a president that the American people supported based on the fact that he was an eloquent guy," Bush said in Iowa last week. "And he had nothing in his background that would suggest he could lead."

Though describing Obama, it's a slight to Rubio. He delivers a compelling story about his parents' flight from Cuba and his working class background, but he has been in the Senate less than five years and has missed much of its business this year while campaigning for president.

Evidence of the tension between the Florida politicians was on display Thursday when Rubio's campaign, minutes after the Bush organization announced raising $13.4 million in the last quarter, boasted it had more cash on hand. Rubio reported having nearly $11 million in his coffers compared with Bush's $10 million. But about $1 million of Rubio's cash cannot be accessed unless he wins the GOP nomination, a point Bush campaign spokesman Tim Miller pounced on via Twitter.

Rubio's campaign reported raising $5.7 million from July through September, down from $9 million in the three months prior. Bush's team says that shows he's been losing steam.

Yet Bush advisers are clearly put off by the senator's durability. Hopes have not come to pass that rivals could be chased from the field with Bush's mammoth fundraising effort in the first half of the year -- yielding more than $100 million for his campaign and the super PAC supporting him.

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They are competing for many of the same voters. Each has won statewide election — Bush twice, Rubio once — in Florida, a hefty prize in the presidential election.

They also have pull among Hispanic voters, whom Republicans want to draw away from Democrats. Both men speak fluent Spanish.

Click through to read the 10 Rubio facts you should know:

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10 Facts About Marco Rubio
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Bush, Rubio step up jabs as 2016 rivalry heats up

1. His parents, Mario and Oria, are Cuban immigrants.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

2. Attended Tarkio College for one year on a football scholarship before he later transferred to Santa Fe College.

(Photo by Phil Coale/AP)

3. When he was sworn into office in 2011, he said that he owed $100,000 of student loans which he finally paid off in 2012.

(Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

4. His wife of 17 years, Jeanette, is of Colombian descent and was once a Miami Dolphins cheerleader.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

5. He went viral with a sip of water. Rubio gave the official Republican reaction to the State of the Union in 2013, but the only detail most people remembered was the moment in which he became so parched that he reached for a water bottle to quench his thirst.

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

6. Though he was baptized as an infant in the Catholic church, he was also baptized as Mormon later in childhood when his family lived in Las Vegas. He is now a practicing Catholic.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

7. He teaches political science at Florida International University in Miami.

(Photo by Charles Ommanney for the Washington Post via Getty)

8. He says the first concert he ever attended was a Prince show.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty)

9. His family used to call him Tony, which came from his middle name Antonio.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

10. Was speaker of the Florida House before he was a U.S. Senator.

(Photo by Phil Coale/AP)

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Yet both have been surpassed in the early months of the primary campaign by the billionaire Trump and retired neurosurgeon Carson. Those challengers have ridden dissatisfaction with the government to a lead in national and early state polls with four months before Iowa leads off the 2016 voting.

Rubio is more subtle than Bush as the two men draw distinctions between each other, but his meaning is unmistakable.

In New Hampshire recently, Rubio said the election is "a generational choice" and political leaders in both parties are "out of touch." Rubio is 44, Bush is 62.

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"We will not change direction if all we do is keep electing the same kind of people," Rubio said in Portsmouth. "This election cannot be one of those elections where we just promote the next person in line, where we just vote for the person the experts tell us we have to vote for."

The remarks are aimed as much at Bush, whose father, George H.W. Bush, was elected president 27 years ago, as at Clinton, whose husband defeated the elder Bush for re-election 23 years ago.

The connections between Rubio and Bush go back to the late 1990s when Bush, then governor, contributed $50 to Rubio's campaign for a West Miami commission seat. When Rubio became the first Cuban-American to ascend to Florida House speaker, Bush gave him a sword to remind him to stay true to his conservative values.

"I can't think back on a time when I've ever been prouder to be a Republican, Marco," Bush said then. Rubio in his memoir, "An American Son," praised Bush's "creativity and daring."

"Jeb is my friend," Rubio told reporters in Florida when asked about Bush's jabs. "I have tremendous respect for him as a person and for what he did for Florida as governor."

But the jabs are more frequent now, and Rubio is countering from his corner.

Beaumont reported from Muscatine, Iowa.

RELATED: See all the candidates running for president in 2016

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All officially announced 2016 Presidential candidates
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Bush, Rubio step up jabs as 2016 rivalry heats up

Business mogul Donald Trump (R)

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont (D)

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson of Maryland (R)

(Photo/Paul Sancya)

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R)

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky (R)

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida (R)

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of New York (D)

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania (R)

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R)

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Former CEO, Businesswoman Carly Fiorina of California (R)

(Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas (R)

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Former New York Governor George Pataki (R)

(Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (R)

(Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (D)

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R)

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Ohio Governor John Kasich (R)

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore (R)

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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