The attacks between Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio will come to a head at Tuesday night's GOP debate, with the two men seeking to cement their places in the top tier of the race.
Rubio's numbers are growing in the polls, reports The Hill,
but Cruz has already placed at the top in some of Iowa's surveys, and the attacks have been growing between the two youngest candidates in this year's race.
The discourse has shifted to national security in the wake of the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris, which is a strong issue for Rubio, and the Florida senator has ramped up his attacks on Cruz over his vote for the USA Freedom Act, which modified the National Security Agency's collection procedures.
Meanwhile, Cruz will likely go after Rubio as an establishment candidate who will be too centrist for conservatives.
But veteran GOP strategist Charlie Black said Rubio will be ready for both Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul, also an opponent of metadata collection, as they have already debated the issue on the Senate floor.
"My guess is Marco's smart enough to say that we've had this horrible terrorist attack in San Bernadino" and after it the intelligence authorities were limited in their ability to track historical cell phone data because of legislation supported by Cruz and President Obama," Black, who said he is neutral in the 2016 race, told The Hill.
The senators will also be vying for attention of key donors during the debate, including Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the Venetian, where the debate is being held.
Adelson has not yet committed to any of the wide slate of candidates, but he and his wife have already given some donations to Rubio's fundraising accounts. Adelson spent around $100 million in the 2012 presidential election.
Cruz' fundraising totals are already near the top of the race, with his super PACs
raising almost $38 million since his campaign started.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich said Tuesday night's debate will be a contest to show which candidate can best show a plan to protect the nation against ISIS and Islamic terrorism.
"We are in a world wide campaign against a virus… which is spreading on the Internet," Gingrich told The Hill. "It's a mortal threat to our survival."
Both men, in addition to fighting against each other, will also need to deal with front-runner Donald Trump. Cruz has not yet directly clashed with Trump, while Rubio has already engaged him several times.
Gingrich, though, said that it would be a mistake to take on Trump, as he is "too smart, too ruthless, and he likes fighting, he likes being a counter-puncher."
Sandy Fitzgerald ✉
Sandy Fitzgerald has more than three decades in journalism and serves as a general assignment writer for Newsmax covering news, media, and politics.
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