DERRY, N.H. — It is not that former Florida governor Jeb Bush and his one-time protege, US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, are following the same path to the White House, but in New Hampshire on Wednesday Rubio held a town hall meeting in the same room where Bush had held one a few months ago. And several hours later Bush marveled at the same prosthetics company where Rubio once walked the halls.
At first it might have been awkward for two Miami Republicans who frequent the same country club to run for president of the United States in the same year, but these days the relationship has become very intense as both seek to be the mainstream alternative to political outsider candidates now leading in the GOP contest.
While the battle between Bush and Rubio has largely played out behind closed doors among the donor class, it is on full display in New Hampshire, where both candidates are engaged in a zero-sum game to gain momentum in what Bush said Wednesday night "is the most important primary in the United States."
In the latest NBC News/Marist poll of New Hampshire voters, Bush was in third place among Republican voters with 11 percent. Rubio came in fourth with 10 percent.
University of Miami political science professor Joseph Uscinski said Bush and Rubio are playing a longer game beyond the early nominating states.
"There is a battle going on right now — not so much for poll numbers, but for donors and endorsements. Rubio and Bush need both to stay alive right now, and the two candidates are feeding from the same trough of establishment donors," Uscinski said.
Yet at the same time, there are New Hampshire voters who are weighing both campaigns and trying to differentiate between the two.
There are the super-activists like Chris Wolfe, who previously backed Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
In the days after Walker dropped out of the presidential race, other candidates quickly made their pitch.
Bush wooed Wolfe for 30 minutes on the phone and US Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina talked to him for 20 minutes, and he owes former Hewlett Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina a call back.
But prior to holding a town hall meeting in Wolfe's hometown, Rubio was trying to win Wolfe's endorsement over lunch at Halligan Tavern in Derry.
Wolfe said that while he felt Bush and Rubio had essentially the same positions on issues, he likes that Rubio immediately wanted to deeply discuss policy.
Every day New Hampshire Republicans are also struggling to decide between the two.
Doug Viger, a 42-year-old salesman from Pelham, said he is currently trying to decide between Bush and Rubio, and is also considering Graham.
Rubio stands out at the moment to Viger because "he doesn't seem totally in the mainstream. He comes off as different."
Both Rubio and Bush said their takeaway from Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate is that the opposition field has a liberal bent.
"The Democratic Party today is more liberal today than it has been since Michael Dukakis," Rubio said to about 150 people at the town hall meeting.
On Wednesday night in Concord, Bush talked about the debate to a slightly larger crowd at his town hall meeting.
"I don't know if you were keeping the meter on all the spending that was growing, but was it was like ding-ding-ding with all the spending," he said.
In Derry, Rubio took questions ranging from military spending to Social Security, and about his large number of missed votes in the Senate during the presidential campaign. Rubio has missed at least 59 Senate votes since he announced his White House bid in April, according to a tally from NBC News.
"To run for president means you are going to miss votes," Rubio said. "I am not on vacation."
At his meeting at the Christa McAuliffe planetarium, Bush said the federal government should be more involved with space exploration.
He said that many people laughed at Newt Gingrich's idea of colonizing the moon during a 2012 presidential debate, but Bush said, "I thought it was pretty cool."