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Hopefuls jostle for attention

Last modified: 4/18/2015 12:39:01 AM
Just days after Hillary Clinton entered the race – and days before she heads to New Hampshire herself – more than a dozen Republican presidential hopefuls came to the first-in-the-nation primary state yesterday to jockey for a coveted breakout moment in the battle to take her on.

GOP rivals at a party gathering tested out new lines of attack on the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination – and on each other – as they angled to be seen as her best-positioned challenger.

New Hampshire’s Republican voters also tested them, revealing in unscripted question-and-answer angst in the ranks about the party establishment’s power and the GOP’s readiness for the general-election campaign.

“I don’t want a coronation on our side,” attorney Lisa Mediano told former Florida governor Jeb Bush after his presentation. “I don’t see any coronation coming my way, trust me,” Bush replied to laughter.

The attendance by a bevy of ambitious Republicans underscored the intense competition already under way in New Hampshire, which plays a critical role in the nominating process. With no clear front-runner here, campaigns are rushing to make inroads with primary voters.

The “leadership summit,” organized by the state Republican Party as a fundraiser and kickoff to primary season, began yesterday morning and will run through tonight in Nashua.

In all, nearly 20 Republicans who are running for president or considering bids – including GOP long shots such as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump and former diplomat John Bolton – are roaming the halls at Crowne Plaza hotel.

More than 600 Republicans sat in a ballroom here yesterday, along with hundreds of credentialed reporters, according to a state GOP official. Each speaker was allotted about 30 minutes to make an impression and introduce himself to voters.

Unlike Iowa, which holds the initial presidential caucuses, the home of the first primary has historically been less inclined to rally behind an evangelical conservative and open to GOP candidates with a maverick streak.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has seen his poll numbers wilt, nodded toward that custom this week by giving a policy address on overhauling Social Security, holding town-hall meetings and stopping by Chez Vachon in Manchester.

Christie returned yesterday for another forum – holding court at a sports bar – after his speech in Nashua.

“Anyone can come back in New Hampshire,” said Brian Murphy, the chairman of the Rockingham County GOP who met privately with Christie on Tuesday. “I told him, ‘Keep coming back. And then come back again and again.’ ”

With the GOP field shaping up to be the most crowded and competitive one in years, the push for strong and sprawling New Hampshire campaigns has become urgent, leading to a spate of in-state hires, phone calls to power brokers and near-universal acceptance of the state party’s invitations to its political festival.

And it was festive. An upbeat Graham sought out radio interviewers, talking up global affairs – and his chances –with chatty Southern charm. College students posed with a life-size cardboard cutout of Sen. Rand Paul. Trump’s aide gave out Reese’s candy and white-and-gold Trump stickers.

As with most speakers, former New York governor George Pataki issued a flurry of criticism at Clinton as reporters and voters looked on. “We don’t need Batman or Spider-Man to beat Hillary Clinton,” he said.

“I kid that every four years there’s the Olympics, the World Cup, and Pataki shows up thinking about running for president,” Pataki joked in his speech.

Beyond their on-stage turns, many attendees held events to huddle with activists and party leaders as they build their networks of support in a state with a small population full of well-informed Republican blocs, whether libertarians, military hawks or moderates.

Bush, who sits in the top tier of polls of New Hampshire Republicans, has been busy with his spadework, a sign that even the son and brother of presidents can take little for granted. He arrived Thursday for a “politics and pie” event in Concord, and appeared yesterday at a “politics and eggs” breakfast at Saint Anselm College in Manchester before heading to Nashua.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who jumped into the 2016 contest earlier this week, met yesterday with students at Manchester Community College and attended a house party downtown before delivering the dinner speech in Nashua – an envied slot.

Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor who holds a double-digit lead in the latest Public Policy Polling survey of New Hampshire Republicans, will give the keynote speech today in Nashua.

He’ll be preceded by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has moved closer to a possible run in recent weeks, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a firebrand freshman who announced his campaign last month.

Saturday’s bill also includes a galaxy of lesser-known GOP stars who are eyeing the White House: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Trump, Graham and former Silicon Valley executive Carly Fiorina.

Huckabee, in an interview later Friday with Fox News - the channel where he until recently worked as a paid contributor - said he would make a formal announcement about his presidential decision next month in his hometown of Hope, Arkansas.

Since New Hampshire’s GOP presidential primary is open - allowing both Republicans and unaffiliated voters to participate - the magnetic pulling of the candidates to the hard right in pitch and posture often seen in Iowa was not as evident on Friday in Nashua.

But the high stakes inevitably lead to tensions. At Friday’s luncheon, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry rejected the notion that the party should play for the center as Republicans dined on stuffed shells, Caesar salad and green beans, and took a not-so-veiled swipe at Bush, who in the past has supported the Common Core national education standards.

Alluding to Cruz, Rubio and other senators in the hunt, Perry, 65, warned Republicans against nominating a youthful lawmaker.

“We’ve spent eight years with a young, inexperienced United States senator,” Perry said. “We’re paying a tremendous price.”

Perry went on to reflect on his failed 2012 campaign for the Republican nomination, when he stumbled in the primary debates and dealt with back problems. This time around, if he runs, he said it’d be different. The lessons he learned: “You’ve got to spend a lot of time in New Hampshire, and you’ve got to be healthy.”

bc-gop-newhampshire (TPN)


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