MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Thursday that Republican primary voters in New Hampshire "should be concerned" about presidential rival Marco Rubio's position on abortion, suggesting he is out of step with the state's GOP electorate.
Betting his White House hopes on the state's Feb. 9 primary, Christie is trying to slow any momentum Rubio gained from his third-place finish in this week's Iowa caucuses and sway undecided voters his way in the closing days of the primary campaign.
Christie argued Thursday that Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida, supports banning all abortions, including in cases of "rape, incest or life of the mother." Appearing on NBC, he added, "I think that's the kind of position that New Hampshire voters would really be concerned about."
Rubio backs an exception for abortion when the life of the mother is in danger, and would back legislation with allowances for cases of rape and incest — even though he personally doesn't support those exceptions.
"I understand it's a difficult issue," Rubio told reporters Thursday. "But I have to choose between the right of a person to do what they want with their body and the right of an unborn child to live. And I support and defend the right of an unborn child to live."
It's an issue voters should expect to hear Christie bring up Saturday during the Republican presidential debate at St. Anselm's College in Manchester, the last meeting between the GOP candidates before Tuesday's primary.
Christie is chasing Rubio, whose strong finish in Iowa's caucuses on Monday gave him a jolt heading into the eight-day sprint to the primary, and has gone hard after the Floridian's style as a politician in recent days.
Christie has accused Rubio of being overly scripted, averse to taking more than a handful of questions at campaign stops and labeled him the "boy in the bubble." He pivoted to policy with the critique on abortion, but did so in a state where Republicans generally are more open to abortion rights than in Iowa.
Last week, New Hampshire's Republican-controlled House of Representatives rejected by a wide margin an effort to launch an investigation into Planned Parenthood. About half of Republicans present for the vote opposed launching the investigation.
Also, the Republican-led state executive council declined last year to provide state money for Planned Parenthood, but approved state funding for a number of other women's health organizations that also offer abortions.
Less than 3 percent of likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters listed abortion policy as the most important issue facing the country according to a Suffolk University poll taken last month.
Kathleen Ronayne contributed from Henniker, N.H.