Washington, Feb 27: Ahead of a key multi-state vote next week, the ongoing verbal duel between Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and rival Marco Rubio has escalated with both taking low-level digs and making allegations against each other.
The verbal duel that began with the debate on Friday is expected to continue over the weekend and into early next week before the 'Super Tuesday' when Republican members in 11 states would elect their presidential candidates.
As many as 595 delegates are at stake. Much is at stake for Rubio, who has failed to win even one of the four primaries so far. Having been endorsed by the maximum number of party's leaders, he needs to win in at least some of the Super Tuesday states to stay in contention.
An impressive performance on Tuesday and a few wins, Rubio's supporters believe, would help him consolidate his position among the party's establishment. Trump on the other hand is hoping to "seal the deal" on Super Tuesday itself by winning all the 11 states at stake.
As per latest polls, he is ahead in 10 of these states and latest national polls suggested that his lead over his nearest rivals has increased.
At a campaign rally in Dallas, Rubio launched a scathing attack on Trump, joking that the 69-year-old New York billionaire may have wet his pants during the Houston Texas debate a night earlier.
"He called me Mr Meltdown. Let me tell you something, last night during two of the debates, he went backstage, he was having a meltdown," he said.
He (Trump) was nervous, he was waving his arms around: Rubio
"First, he had this little makeup thing applying makeup around his mustache because he had one of those sweat mustaches. Then, he asked for a full length mirror, maybe to make sure his pants weren't wet," Rubio joked.
"He's a clown," the 44-year-old Republican contender told Fox News in an interview.
"Look, I saw him back stage. He was nervous, he was waving his arms around. I think it is time to take the mask off of this guy," Rubio asserted.
Under attack, Trump fired back. He called Rubio a "nervous Nellie", a "lightweight" and a "choker".
"I watched a part of his little act and he's a desperate guy...He is not presidential material, I can tell you. He doesn't have the demeanour, he's a nervous Nellie. I watched him back stage. This guy is a total mess,"
Trump told reporters during a news conference. Trump has won three out of the four Republican primaries and finished second in Iowa behind Texas Senator Ted Cruz.