MIAMI (AP) — Marco Rubio tried to build on his well-reviewed performance in the GOP debate by lashing out at Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday, turning toward the general election with a focus on the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
Given the chance to follow-up on the clash between still-large field of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, and most notably a memorable exchange with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Rubio said in a series of interviews he'd rather talk about Clinton.
Beginning where he left off in Wednesday night's debate, the Florida senator accused the former secretary of state of not telling the truth about what happened in the Sept. 2012 attacks, which led to the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Rubio said Clinton was trying then to keep the attack from damaging President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.
"The narrative of their campaign at the time was that al-Qaida was on the run and had been defeated. And this countered that narrative. They didn't want that out there," Rubio said on CBS "This Morning," one of six interviews he did Thursday.
The focus on Clinton was notable, as it came hours after Rubio's campaign was touting how he deflected an attack from Bush in the debate over his attendance record in the Senate. The campaign said it had raised more than $750,000 online from 14,000 donors by 3 p.m. Thursday.
But rather than pile on, Rubio said Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America" that he has "admiration" for Bush and wants only to underscore policy differences between the two.
Instead, he spent his time keeping after Clinton in what amounts to a general election argument against the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
"Every successful presidential candidate carries out a message that resonates with voters in the primary and general elections," said Josh Holmes, a former adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. "Rubio has the most identifiable strategy to do that."
"It's a very productive primary strategy and it preserves your option in the general election when you ultimately prosecute the case against Hillary Clinton," said Holmes, founder of Washington-based Cavalry LLC and not affiliated with any presidential campaign.
During the GOP presidential campaign, Rubio has kept a steady drumbeat of criticism directed Clinton — including in Wednesday night's debate. Having been mentioned in an answer to a question about another topic, Rubio seized on the chance to take the floor and talk about Clinton's 11 hours of testimony last week before a congressional committee investigating the Benghazi attacks.
"The mainstream media is going around saying it was the greatest week in Hillary Clinton's campaign," Rubio said. "It was the week she got exposed as a liar."
Republicans have cited Clinton's public statement after the 2012 incident that said some people believed the attack came in response to an anti-Muslim video. At the hearing, they produced copies of emails Clinton wrote her family saying it was a terrorist attack by an al-Qaida-like group.
Clinton defended her actions, saying there was much conflicting intelligence in the fast-moving aftermath of the attacks. In the days after the Benghazi attack and before the election, Obama on multiple occasions described the events as acts of terror.
In recent weeks, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the committee chairman, was forced to defend the panel as some members of his own party suggested Clinton is the panel's target. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said last month that the committee can take credit for Clinton's diminished public standing in recent months, a comment he later retracted.
Campaigning in New Hampshire on Thursday, Clinton said she didn't make much of the GOP debate.
"You would have bene better off watching the World Series," Clinton said during a campaign stop in Berlin, New Hampshire. "The debate in my view was a swing and a miss."
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