Marco Rubio walks into the lions' den

“There is no question that the target on our back has increased in size significantly,” said Todd Harris, a senior Rubio adviser. “There is a lot of desperation in this field right now and a lot of people feeling like the only way to lift their campaigns up is to try to tear us down.”…

Both governors — who have tag-teamed in attacking Rubio’s accomplishments and preparedness on the trail in recent days — have shied away from direct confrontations with Rubio in past debates. Bush did so after their first encounter was a flop for him in October (“Someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you,” Rubio snapped at him) and Christie in hopes of appearing above the political fray.

According to his team, Kasich, who has tried to portray himself as 2016’s sunny optimist, wants to steer clear of the expected pile-up with the hope that the sparring will clear a lane for him. He celebrated his 100th town hall in the state Friday and his campaign team successfully pressured his super PAC to pull down a negative ad that used New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte to attack Rubio earlier in the week.

“Late deciders aren’t going to decide based on tearing into someone,” said a Kasich adviser. “They want to see a positive vision.”