MANCHESTER, N.H. – Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenators press DHS over visa approval for Pensacola naval base shooter Lawmaker wants Chinese news outlet to register as foreign agent Apple under pressure to unlock Pensacola shooter's phones MORE apologized to the hundreds of supporters who gathered at his primary watch party in New Hampshire on Tuesday night, saying his poor debate performance hurt him on election day and vowing it would never happen again.

“We’re still watching the numbers,” Rubio said. “We'll see where they end up. A lot of people are disappointed. I’m disappointed. But I want to tell you that disappointment is on me, not you. I did not do well on Saturday night, so listen to this: That will never happen again!”

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Late Tuesday, Rubio appeared headed for a fifth-place finish after a surprising late surge in last week's Iowa caucuses sent his presidential campaign to New Hampshire with the wind at its back.

With nearly 80 percent of precincts reporting, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff pleads to Senate GOP: 'Right matters. And the truth matters.' Anita Hill to Iowa crowd: 'Statute of limitations' for Biden apology is 'up' Sen. Van Hollen releases documents from GAO investigation MORE, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDemocrats sharpen case on second day of arguments What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial Democrats' impeachment case lands with a thud with GOP — but real audience is voters MORE were ahead of Rubio in a state that was expected to be receptive to his optimistic conservative message.  

After Rubio outperformed expectations to finish a strong third in Iowa, some Republican establishment figures pushed for the current and former governors — Bush, Kasich, and Chris Christie — to clear the field. Rubio backers said he was as the most viable non-Trump, non-Cruz candidate. 

But neither the governors nor the voters bought into that narrative, and Saturday’s debate dramatically reversed Rubio’s momentum amid unfavorable media coverage.

Rubio got clobbered at the debate in an exchange with Christie, who mocked him for repeating apparently scripted lines. Christie drove home for GOP viewers the long-standing critique that Rubio is all style and no substance beside a "memorized 25-second speech."

Christie came in a disappointing sixth in New Hampshire and headed home to reevaluate his campaign. But he may leave behind the legacy of damaging Rubio by painting him as a scripted robot.

Democrats ran with the robotic Rubio theme in the days following the debate. Liberal operative Eddie Vale — who works for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSchiff pleads to Senate GOP: 'Right matters. And the truth matters.' Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti defends Tulsi Gabbard's lawsuit against Hillary Clinton Trump to hold rally on eve of New Hampshire primary MORE ally David Brock’s American Bridge group — stalked the candidate while dressed as a “Rubio Talking Point 3000” robot. Vale wore a silver colander on his head and a cardboard box. 

Still, there was considerable energy for Rubio as he took the stage Tuesday night in defeat. The crowd repeatedly burst into chants of “Marco,” and the candidate displayed confidence he could recover.

“Tonight we did not wind up where we wanted to be, but that does not change where we’ll wind up at the end of this process,” he said.

Rubio said he’d be back in New Hampshire in November “to win the general election.”

“And South Carolina, we’re on our way,” he added.

The Rubio campaign announced his next campaign stops in the Palmetto State early in the night on Tuesday as it became clear he’d underperform in New Hampshire.

Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, who oversaw John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMartha McSally fundraises off 'liberal hack' remark to CNN reporter Meghan McCain blasts NY Times: 'Everyone already knows how much you despise' conservative women GOP senator calls CNN reporter a 'liberal hack' when asked about Parnas materials MORE's 2008 presidential campaign, said Rubio’s debate performance and subsequent New Hampshire showing would end his candidacy.

“We’ve not seen a moment like this in modern American politics,” he said on MSNBC.

“Marco Rubio on Saturday night was poised to not just come in second place but maybe well be the winner in the New Hampshire primary, so great was his momentum after Iowa. ... The practical effect of it is that it’s ended Marco Rubio’s chance to be the Republican nominee, in my estimation.”

Schmidt said that if Rubio finished behind Bush that “the rationale for his candidacy collapses.”

Rubio trailed Bush by slightly, with 80 percent of precincts reporting.

Updated at 11:34 p.m.