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HENNIKER, N.H. — The day after a sharp debate performance, US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida brought his campaign road show to New Hampshire Friday, showcasing a more personal side in his bid for president.

Rubio took the fight to several of his opponents at Thursday evening’s debate, attacking US Senator Ted Cruz’s voting records and questioning other candidates’ commitment to conservative values. And while he also took direct aim at Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, on Friday, Rubio’s address focused on why his life experiences are more in step with those of everyday Americans.


“We need a president who understands what people are going through,” Rubio told an overflow crowd of more than 250 people at New England College’s Simon Center, which included 75 middle-schoolers. “I want to know how Hillary Clinton is going to lecture me on living paycheck to paycheck because I lived paycheck to paycheck. I want to know how she’s going to lecture me on student loans. I had $100,000 — more than $100,000 — in student loans not 20 years ago, like four years ago.”

Rubio is battling for second place in New Hampshire — where voters will cast their ballots Feb. 9 — against Christie, Cruz, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and Ohio Governor John Kasich. Donald Trump remains the front-runner among Republicans in state polls.

Friday’s town hall marked Rubio’s second stop of four during a daylong swing through the state on the heels of Thursday night’s debate in South Carolina. During the GOP debate, the sixth thus far, Rubio called Cruz a flip-flopper on many issues, including immigration, trade, and the military.

And while talking about foreign policy, the national debt, and climate change, Rubio mentioned a rival Friday.

“You may have watched last night,” he said. “I got into a little back and forth with Chris Christie, who I like. But Chris Christie supports judges that I would never have supported.”


Rubio then pulled out a sheet of paper and read a quote in support of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor that he attributed to Christie.

Rubio is the son of Cuban immigrants and a father of four. He drew heavily from his personal narrative when answering questions on everything from immigration to America’s relationship with Cuba to the cost of college to helping students with special needs.

Joanne Bowne’s 13-year-old daughter is autistic, and she wanted to know how Rubio would help a growing generation of children diagnosed with the disorder.

Rubio responded by telling a story about watching family friends struggle after their 2-year-old daughter was diagnosed. The toddler wouldn’t eat solid foods and was impervious to hot temperatures, making her vulnerable to burns by bathtub water, he said. And, he said, doctors told the family that the girl needed immediate therapeutic interventions they couldn’t afford and insurance refused to pay.

“So, I’m familiar with it at a personal level,” he told her. He said there should to be more investment in medical research, more school choice options and opportunities for parents of disabled children, and changes must be made to the Social Security and disability fund to ensure there’s a safety net in place for children who lack family support when they grow.

“I’m a conservative, but I believe in the safety net because free enterprise doesn’t work without a safety net,” he said.


Akilah Johnson can be reached at akilah.johnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.