GOP debate turns into battle
The Republican race for the party's 2016 presidential nomination erupted into a four-candidate crossfire on Wednesday over who has the proper experience and is the most conservative, days before South Carolina voters put their stamp on the campaign.
In TV interviews and campaign events, front-runner Donald Trump threatened to sue Senator Ted Cruz of Texas over a negative TV ad, while Senator Marco Rubio of Florida accused Cruz of lying about his record, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush questioned Rubio's experience to serve as president.
Amid the squabbling, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley endorsed Rubio as the Republicans' best hope for winning the White House, a boost to Rubio and a blow to Bush, who had lobbied hard for her to pick him.
The endorsement gave Rubio, 44, a valuable ally to try to sway voters ahead of tomorrow's South Carolina Republican primary, the third contest after Iowa and New Hampshire to pick a party nominee for the Nov 8 election to succeed Democratic President Barack Obama.
Much of the debate took place over the television airwaves, as Trump lobbed charges at his rivals at an MSNBC town hall, and Rubio and Cruz battled in back-to-back appearances at a CNN town hall in Greenville, South Carolina.
Trump fumed about a TV ad put out by the Cruz campaign that brought up Trump's past position in support of a woman's right to an abortion. Trump says he has evolved into a conservative and is now against abortion.
The latest national Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Trump taking a more than 20-point lead over Cruz in the Republican race.
Trump had 40 percent support in the poll conducted from Saturday to Wednesday, compared with 17 percent for Cruz, 11 percent for Rubio, 10 percent for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and 8 percent for Bush.
The results contrasted with those of an NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll that put Cruz ahead of Trump among Republicans by 28 percent to 26 percent.