Hours before Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate, NBC’s Today and ABC’s Good Morning America both seized on a hit piece in Florida’s Sun Sentinel newspaper demanding that Marco Rubio resign his Senate seat. At the top of Today, co-host Matt Lauer proclaimed: “Florida Senator Marco Rubio gets dealt a tough blow from one of his state's newspapers.”
In the report that followed minutes later, correspondent Peter Alexander touted how the paper “slammed the candidate overnight for his record of missing more roll calls than any other senator this year.” He quoted the nasty attack: “You are paid $174,000 per year to represent us, to fight for us, to solve our problems. You are ripping us off, Senator.”
After Alexander’s report, fellow co-host Savannah Guthrie brought up the issue to MSNBC host Steve Kornacki: “[Jeb Bush has] been training his fire, Steve, on Marco Rubio of late. And Rubio was dealt a blow. The Sun Sentinel, a big newspaper in Florida has said, ‘Resign your seat. If you hate the Senate, leave.’ How much might that affect what happens tonight?”
Kornacki observed: “...he's got some ammunition to go after Marco Rubio, but when it comes to sort of glibness, the performance aspect of politics, Marco Rubio so far has been much stronger than Jeb Bush. If you're Jeb Bush and you start that fight, you have to make sure you win that fight because Marco Rubio can parry with you.”
On Good Morning America, correspondent Tom Llamas wrapped up a report on the upcoming debate by declaring:
Senator Marco Rubio also waking up to some serious criticism the morning before the debate. One of his hometown papers, The Sun Sentinel, calling him to resign, saying he missed too many votes in the Senate and saying Jeb Bush is right for calling him out. This is very notable because The Sun Sentinel endorsed Rubio in 2010 for Senate.
Co-host George Stephanopoulos noted: “Yeah, we’ll see if Bush picks that up tonight.”
In 2008, the Sentinel endorsed Barack Obama despite the then-Senator frequently missing votes in 2007 and 2008. Hillary Clinton similarly missed scores of Senate votes while running for president.
Here is a full transcript of Alexander’s October 28 report:
7:00 AM ET TEASE
MATT LAUER: Battle in Boulder. The next Republican presidential debate just hours away with Ben Carson the new national front-runner, so how’s Donald Trump handling being number two?
DONALD TRUMP: What the hell are you people doing to me?
LAUER: As Florida Senator Marco Rubio gets dealt a tough blow from one of his state's newspapers.
7:05 AM ET SEGMENT
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: We move now to politics, the presidential race. Big night tonight, the Republican candidates set to debate in Colorado with a new front-runner in place. Ben Carson has now inched ahead of Donald Trump in national polls. This is just the latest twist in an already volatile race. And we've got it all covered for you this morning. We'll start with NBC's national correspondent Peter Alexander. He is in Boulder at the debate site. Peter, good morning.
PETER ALEXANDER: Hey, Savannah, good morning to you. This is debate night just ahead of us right now, and it’s gonna be the first real showdown between the top two Republican candidates, two men with polar opposite personalities, Donald Trump and Ben Carson. How will Trump respond for falling out of first for the first time? Well, we may have got a clue overnight in a rally that sounded a lot like a locker room pep talk.
DONALD TRUMP: Will you get the numbers up, Iowa, please. This is ridiculous. I mean, what is my competition?
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: GOP Battle in Boulder; Debate Comes as Trump Dips Down in New Poll]
ALEXANDER: Donald Trump for the first time in months dealing with life somewhere other than first place.
TRUMP: I mean, I am second, it's not like terrible, but I don't like being second. Second is terrible to me. What the hell are you people doing to me?
ALEXANDER: Republicans remain deeply divided. Only 48% say they’d support Ben Carson enthusiastically if he's the nominee, just 29% for Trump, and only 18% for Jeb Bush. Still, Trump quickly cast a potential loss as a campaign win.
TRUMP: It's certainly a possibility that I won't make it. I'll still be proud of my effort because I think I've done very well.
GOV. JOHN KASICH [R-OH]: I've about had it with these people.
ALEXANDER: Lagging behind in the polls, Ohio Governor John Kasich, who stayed out of the fray until now, ripping into his Republican rivals Trump, Carson, and Bush.
KASICH: I'm done with being polite and listening to this nonsense, and it's time we educate the American people about the consequences of very bad choices.
ALEXANDER: After huddling with his family in Houston, Bush will try to kick start his campaign, gearing up by hiking with veterans here in Colorado. But with weak poll numbers, he faces a tough climb tonight.
Marco Rubio's advisers telling NBC News they know he'll have a bullseye on his back. One major newspaper slammed the candidate overnight for his record of missing more roll calls than any other senator this year. The Sun Sentinel writing, “You are paid $174,000 per year to represent us, to fight for us, to solve our problems. You are ripping us off, Senator.” Earlier this month, Rubio spoke out about the issue, defending himself on Today.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO [R-FL]: Everyone that's run for president in the past has faced this. There are times when you're not going to be there. My ambitions aren’t for me, my ambitions are for the country and Florida, and that's why I'm running for president.
ALEXANDER: And it turns out the first debate battle may actually have started last night over green rooms of all things. After a walk-through here at the site yesterday, the Chris Christie and Rand Paul campaigns complained that the higher-polling candidates received preferential treatment from the Republican National Committee. Here's what the green rooms looked like. Trump, you can see, with a spacious room, plush chairs, that flat screen. Another tweet showed Rand Paul's with a white concrete set of walls and a toilet in the back. And then for Rubio, quote, “Check out Marco's theater,” all sorts of plush chairs in there for him and his team. All’s well, apparently, that ends well. The Paul campaign tweeting out overnight that they have finally upgraded their quarters and they’re satisfied with the way things ended up.
GUTHRIE: Everybody wants a first class seat, right? Peter Alexander in Boulder, thank you so much.