HOUSTON, Texas - Out of the five remaining GOP candidates who participated in last night's CNN Republican presidential debate at the University of Houston, Florida Senator Marco Rubio emerged as the clear winner.
Rubio's shining moment came when he hounded billionaire Donald Trump for details about his plan for U.S. healthcare by repeatedly asking, "What's your plan?"
Trump responded to Rubio's nagging by saying,"You know, I watched him [Rubio] meltdown two weeks ago with Chris Christie [who called out Rubio for repeating the same talking points instead of answering debate questions]. "I've got to tell you, the biggest problem he’s got is he really doesn’t know about the lines. The biggest thing we’ve got, and the reason we’ve got no competition, is because we have lines around the states." Trump went on to say that he would remove the "lines around the states" so that health insurance companies would compete nationwide rather than state-by-state.
Rubio then continued to press Trump for more details about his plan, "So, that’s the only part of the plan? Just the lines?"
"The nice part of the plan, you’ll have many different plans," replied Trump. "You’ll have competition, you’ll have so many different plans."
"Now he’s repeating himself," Rubio quipped. The debate audience then erupted into laughter and applause over Rubio's remark.
Trump tried to recover by once again referring to Rubio's poor performance against Christie in the South Carolina debate. "I watched him repeat himself five times four weeks ago," Trump said.
"I just watched you repeat yourself five times five seconds ago," Rubio quickly countered which caused the audience to roar with laughter.
Rubio spoke in a much more natural tone and seemed relaxed during last night's GOP debate - a 180 degree difference from his performance in South Carolina which earned him the nickname "Marco Roboto."
Although Rubio was the winner in last night's debate, there may not be enough time for him to gather momentum to catch up with Trump who leads by wide double-digit margins in the polls nationally. Eleven states go to the polls in less than a week on March 1st with 545 delegates at stake. Trump leads in all of those states except two: Senator Ted Cruz's home state of Texas and neighboring Arkansas which favor Cruz over Trump by 7 and 4 percentage points, respectively. Rubio doesn't lead in any of the March 1st election states.
In Rubio's home state of Florida, Trump leads Rubio by 44% to 28% among likely Republican primary voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday. The Sunshine State's GOP election is less than three weeks away on March 15th where the statewide winner takes all 99 delegates.
Photo credit: Rubio and Trump campaigns. Video credit: CNN