Setting third means more heat……

Marco Rubio may find himself in an unusual position — a magnet for attack — when he takes the stage at Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate in Boulder, Colo.

When his poll numbers were lower, Rubio largely avoided taking fire from his rivals. But strong performances at two previous debates — and stumbles by former Florida governor Jeb Bush and other candidates — have made Rubio the top GOP establishment candidate. He’s now in third place overall behind retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and businessman Donald Trump.

Recent national polls averaged by RealClearPolitics show Rubio with 9%, trailing Trump (26.8%) and Carson (22%) but ahead of Bush (7%) and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas (6.6%).

That makes the first-term senator from Florida an obvious target for other GOP candidates on Wednesday. Rubio should expect some bashing, for example, on his absenteeism rate in the Senate, where he’s missed more votes this year than anyone else.

But a key supporter said he should continue to ignore the noise.

“He needs to stay on message and not get rattled,” said Rep. Tom Rooney, Florida chairman of Rubio’s presidential campaign. ” And I think that he’ll do fine.”

Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., said he’d be “stunned” if Bush doesn’t go after Rubio on missed votes and other issues.

The former governor has suggested that lawmakers who don’t show up for votes should have their pay docked. And Bush campaign advisers have described Rubio as the GOP version of President Obama for what they say is Rubio’s thin record of legislative accomplishment.

“He’s got to respond (if attacked),” Madonna said. “Any charge not answered is a charge believed. But he (should) continue to take the higher road when he can and end up trying to stay in the top four or five for the long haul now. One goal: Hang in. Hang in. Hang in. Let the others fall out and try to end up with their reservoir of support.”