MANCHESTER, N.H. — The ballroom at Marco Rubio’s campaign party was full, but as the networks counted more and more votes, the room got quieter and quieter.
Rubio was hoping for a second place showing in New Hampshire, leaving the Granite State as the clear frontrunner among the establishment candidates. However, what looks to be a fifth place finish casts doubts that Rubio will emerge as the candidate to challenge Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
“I’m disappointed with tonight but I want you to understand something,” Rubio told his supporters. “Our disappointment tonight is not on you, it’s on me.”
Rubio has faced criticism as being inexperienced after repeating a line from his stump speech several times in last debate. Pundits were quick to blame the flub for Rubio’s poor showing in New Hampshire.
“I did not do well on Saturday night, so let me tell you this: That will never happen again,” said Rubio, acknowledging his poor debate performance.
“I’m kinda bummed.” said Rigo Martinez, a corrections officer. “I thought that he would do a lot better than he’s doing tonight. I feel that the debate maybe hurt him a little bit and so maybe that turned off a lot of voters especially here in New Hampshire”
Protesters dressed as robots followed Rubio as he visited polling places today.
“We’re both programed,” one of the them, Aaron Black, said. “I’m programmed by computers, he’s programmed by corporate Wall Street donors.”
Most Rubio supporters, however, were unflapped by the debate criticism.
“If the worst thing they can say is that he’s consistently on message then you’re doing something right,” said Cameron Khansarinia, a Harvard sophomore who is a national co-chair of Students for Rubio.
One of the few joyful moments for Rubio’s was when Fox News announced Chris Christie would come in sixth. Christie led the attacks on Rubio leading up to today’s voting.
The first-term Florida senator is competing with John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Christie for the support of the establishment wing of the Republican party. Each hopes that they can consolidate the party’s support — in the form of voters and money.
Rubio said he’s excited to return to New Hampshire in November for the general election, but that in order to win the nomination he’ll need a strong performance in South Carolina, which votes Feb. 20.
“Voters around the country are going to have to realize, let’s make our votes count,” said Brandon Castle, a 21-year-old salesman. “Let’s put them behind someone who can win.”
“Not all the days are going to be great days, we’re not always going to get things the way we want,” said Rubio. “But in the end I am confident that not only will this campaign be successful, but America will be successful.”
The dejected room emptied quickly after Rubio left the stage.
“It’s still early,” said Connie Matia, a 53-year-old flight attendant. “It’s a marathon not a sprint, so we’ll see what happens.”