The Republican race is becoming a complete free-for-all, with all eyes trained on one key state

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GOP Candidates Display Policy Split in Fourth GOP Debate


Presidential contenders who are members of the Republican Party's so-called establishment are growing increasingly snippy as their eyes train on what's looking more and more like a make-or-break state: New Hampshire.

Over the past week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) sniped at Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Florida) poor Senate-attendance record. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's (R) allies went after not only Rubio, but also Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R).

And Rubio's campaign referred to Bush's operation as "sad."

"It's sad to see Jeb's 'joyful' campaign reduced to such intellectual dishonesty," Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said on Tuesday, responding to a what the Rubio campaign felt was a factually incorrect attack ad released by the pro-Bush super PAC, Right to Rise USA.

The uptick in sparring has come less than 50 days before voters cast their ballots in New Hampshire, perhaps the most important state for these four "establishment" contenders who've been upended by the shocking rise of the party's "outsiders" in the 2016 election cycle. Next week, every major presidential candidate is set to visit the Granite State.

To see more of the GOP candidates, scroll through the gallery below:

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Ten 2016 GOP candidates to debate
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The Republican race is becoming a complete free-for-all, with all eyes trained on one key state
AMES, IA - JULY 18:  Republican presidential hopeful and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee fields questions at The Family Leadership Summit at Stephens Auditorium on July 18, 2015 in Ames, Iowa. According to the organizers the purpose of The Family Leadership Summit is to inspire, motivate, and educate conservatives.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, speaks to the media following a campaign stop outside a residence in Washington, Iowa, U.S., on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Bush, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul are leading the Republican pack as most electable against Democrat Hillary Clinton in three swing states, according to a new poll with provocative implications for the crowded GOP primary. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
AYR, SCOTLAND - JULY 30:  Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump visits his Scottish golf course Turnberry on July 30, 2015 in Ayr, Scotland. Donald Trump will answer questions from the media at a press conference where reporters will be limited to questions just about golf.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
AMES, IA - JULY 18:  Republican presidential hopeful Senator Ted Cruz of Texas fields questions at The Family Leadership Summit at Stephens Auditorium on July 18, 2015 in Ames, Iowa. According to the organizers the purpose of The Family Leadership Summit is to inspire, motivate, and educate conservatives.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Ben Carson, Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, pauses while speaking during The Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, July 18, 2015. The sponsor, The FAMiLY LEADER, is a "pro-family, pro-marriage, pro-life organization which champions the principle that God is the ultimate leader of the family." (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
AMES, IA - JULY 18:  Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker fields questions at The Family Leadership Summit at Stephens Auditorium on July 18, 2015 in Ames, Iowa. According to the organizers, the purpose of The Family Leadership Summit is to inspire, motivate, and educate conservatives.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, June 19, 2015. The annual Faith & Freedom Coalition Policy Conference gives top-tier presidential contenders as well as long shots a chance to compete for the large evangelical Christian base in the crowded Republican primary contest. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
John Kasich, governor of Ohio, speaks while announcing he will seek the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in Columbus, Ohio, U.S., on Tuesday, July 21, 2015. Kasich, seeking to emerge from a crowded Republican presidential field as a practical and compassionate leader from a must-win swing state, is joins 15 other Republicans who have declared their candidacies. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 01:  U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) does a live interview with ABC News in the Russell Senate Office Building rotunda on Capitol Hill June 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. In protest of the National Security Agency's sweeping program to collect U.S. citizens' telephone metadata, Paul blocked an extension of some parts of the USA PATRIOT Act, allowing them to lapse at 12:01 a.m. Monday. The Senate will continue to work to restore the lapsed authorities by amending a House version of the bill and getting it to President Obama later this week.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, waits to begin a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 23, 2015. Senator Bob Corker, a key player in the congressional debate over the nuclear deal with Iran, told Secretary of State John Kerry that the Obama administration is engaging in hyperbole to sell it. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
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Amid the rise of real-estate magnate Donald Trump — and, to a lesser extent, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) — the establishment-oriented candidates are intensely jockeying to put themselves in position to win New Hampshire's primary. Because of Trump's dominance, many candidates would probably be happy to grab a strong second-place finish there in order to rally the GOP establishment behind the runner-up.

New Hampshire could become especially significant if Trump or Cruz were to win Iowa, the first caucus state. Right now, Trump is neck and neck with Cruz in Iowa. But the businessman is up by about 14 points over his rivals in New Hampshire, according to a RealClearPolitics average of recent surveys.

Faced with the possibility of two Trump victories in a row — or a split between Cruz and Trump — some in the party believe New Hampshire's outcome could lead to a rapid panic within the party's establishment to coalesce behind its best chance of beating back the GOP's insurgent wing.

In simpler terms: If one of the four establishment candidates separates himself from the pack in New Hampshire, he could quickly find himself in a head-to-head battle with Trump or Cruz.

"It would raise the stakes in New Hampshire," said Matt Mackowiak, a veteran Republican strategist and the president of the Potomac Strategy Group. "The establishment would have to quickly unite behind whoever does best [next to Trump] in New Hampshire. And what you'd see is a very rapid coalescing."

For his part, Bush seems to be going all-in to position himself as the alternative to Trump. He launched an aggressive assault on the front-runner in recent weeks. And Bush's campaign noted the contrast between Bush's and his rivals' approaches to Trump, such as Rubio's pass on taking an easy shot at Trump during the last debate, and Christie's statement that Trump "looks like a serious candidate."

The Bush campaign intensified its focus on New Hampshire and other key early states over the past week, shifting many of its Miami-based staffers to the four first-voting states. The campaign also moved much of its planned spending on television ads to on-the-ground operations in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.

By January, the Bush campaign will have around 20 staffers in Iowa, South Carolina, and Nevada, as well as a whopping 40-plus staffers in New Hampshire. That would be larger than the current Christie, Rubio, and Kasich campaigns combined, the Bush campaign noted.

"The campaign is building the best national ground game and infrastructure in the field, one that will allow us to be successful in the long run doing what serious, national campaigns must do to be competitive in the primary and general elections," said Bush spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger.

She added: "Today, given the fluid race and the spending decisions by outside groups, we are making strategic adjustments with our resources to ensure we are in the most competitive position possible. We are excited about the massive Jeb army that will be spreading his message to voters on the ground in the February states and beyond."

Other establishment candidates' focus on New Hampshire has long been evident. Christie's 36 trips to the Granite State amount to a higher tally than any other Republican candidate in the race, according to NECN. His time in the state appears to be paying off: He has surged into a tie for third place in the RealClearPolitics average of recent surveys.

And right behind Christie is Kasich, who has made 28 trips to New Hampshire and stands at fifth place in the polls there.

Both governors the past week came under fire by the pro-Bush super PAC, which unveiled an ad in New Hampshire that unfavorably compared their gubernatorial records to Bush's. The Kasich campaign responded by aggressively mocking Bush.

"The latest ad from Jeb's team forgot to check the box for 'Which governor is living in the past because he has no new ideas for fixing anything?'" Kasich campaign press secretary Rob Nichols said. "You only attack those you fear and who's beating you, so this latest attack by Jeb on Gov. Kasich only reaffirms the governor's strength in New Hampshire.

To see more of Jeb Bush on the campaign trail, scroll through the gallery below:

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Jeb Bush campaign
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The Republican race is becoming a complete free-for-all, with all eyes trained on one key state
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at his South Carolina Republican presidential primary rally in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush during speak a campaign stop Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, at University of South Carolina campus at Sumter, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush throws a snowball following a campaign event, Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush gestures for people to take their seats as he arrives for a campaign event in Salem, N.H., Sunday Feb. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - JANUARY 15: Former Republican presidential candidate and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) announces his endorsement of Jeb Bush for president on January 15, 2016 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Graham dropped his bid for the presidency last month. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - JANUARY 14: Republican presidential candidates (L-R) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Jeb Bush laugh during a commercial break during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center on January 14, 2016 in North Charleston, South Carolina. The sixth Republican debate is held in two parts, one main debate for the top seven candidates, and another for three other candidates lower in the current polls. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
GRINNELL, IA - JANUARY 12: Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush greets people during a town hall at the Brownell's Firearms Manufacturing company on January 12, 2016 in Grinnell, Iowa. Bush continues his quest to become the Republican presidential nominee. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
HIALEAH, FL - DECEMBER 28: Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush holds a meet and greet at Chico's Restaurant on December 28, 2015 in Hialeah, Florida. Mr. Bush continues to campaign for his parties' nomination as the presidential candidate. Credit: MPI10 / MediaPunch/IPX
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches event, Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a campaign stop at the Devine Millimet Law Firm Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush looks on during the singing of the National Anthem before speaking at the Clinton County Republicans Annual Fall Event, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, in Goose Lake, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush greets audience members after speaking at the Scott County Republican Party's Ronald Reagan Dinner, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Davenport, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
WAUKESHA, WI - NOVEMBER 09: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) sits with Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush (L) at La Casa de Esperanza during a campaign stop on November 9, 2015 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Tomorrow Bush will participate in the third Republican presidential debate sponsored by Fox Business News and the Wall Street Journal at the Milwaukee Theater in nearby Milwaukee. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 2: Republican presidential candidate and former Florida governor Jeb Bush allows a supporter to loosen his necktie during a rally on his 'Jeb Can Fix It' Tour on November 2, 2015 at the Tampa Garden Club in Tampa, Florida. Following dropping poll numbers and poor debate performance Bush is trying to reset his campaign that many say has been flailing. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush stretches before speaking during a campaign stop Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, in Bedford, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, wears custom made boots during a campaign stop with area law enforcement officers, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015, in Goffstown, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush poses for a photograph with Katie Wong during a tailgate party before an NCAA college football game between Georgia and South Carolina on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
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 gestures and pounds his fist into his hand while speaking at a town hall meeting in Salem, N.H., Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)
Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush shows off a Reagan/Bush '84 T-shirt as he speaks during the opening of his Miami campaign office Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Gaston De Cardenas)
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)
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)
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, 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)
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, 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 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 Florida State University Conference Center in Tallahassee, Fla., Monday, July 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
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)
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)
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 talks to members of the media after speaking to voters at the Derry Opera House, Tuesday, June 16, 2015, in Derry, N.H. Bush is campaigning in the nation's earliest presidential primary state. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
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)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at a Clark County Republican Party dinner Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
A supporter takes a cell phone photo of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush after a town hall meeting with Puerto Rico's Republican Party in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Immigration is a delicate subject for the 2016 GOP presidential prospect in the primacy race, with several potential rivals favoring a harder line on those who come to the U.S. illegally. But he took it up unapologetically in his remarks. "We're an immigrant nation and we should be proud," he said. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
MYRTLE BEACH, SC - MARCH 18: Former Florida Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush kisses a supporter during an early morning GOP breakfast event on March 18, 2015 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Bush announced in December that he 'actively explore' a presidential run in 2016. He is currently on a two day tour through South Carolina and will attend several fundraising events. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush waves while being introduced before speaking at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in San Francisco, Friday, Jan. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
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"It's actually flattering," he added.

Other Kasich campaign staffers went off on Twitter:



The Bush attacks confirm this: he's running behind @johnkasich, Christie & Rubio. Maybe he makes debate stage. He won't make SC primary.

And a super PAC supporting Kasich, New Day for America, went even further in its response. The PAC knocked Bush's and Christie's "baggage."

"As for Governor Christie, his mishandling of his state budget and the 'Bridgegate' scandal have earned him a 60% unfavorable rating from those who know him best — the people of New Jersey," said Connie Wehrkamp, a spokesperson for the super PAC.

Rubio, meanwhile, has come under renewed fire for his Senate-attendance record as he has maintained a steady second-place standing in New Hampshire and the No. 3 position nationally.

The Florida senator found himself under attack from two establishment-friendly directions earlier this week.

Bush's super PAC unveiled a scathing ad that hit Rubio for missing national-security hearings in the wake of recent terror attacks in order to attend fundraisers. Christie also got in on the action on Tuesday, blasting Rubio for missing a vote on a spending bill.

"Dude, show up to work," Christie said at a town-hall event in Iowa. "If you don't want to, then quit."

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