As Field Narrows, Remaining GOP Candidates Race To Woo Undecided Granite Staters
Most polls put Donald Trump squarely atop the Republican Party presidential field in New Hampshire. But an intense battle is underway for a second and third place showing in next Tuesday's primary, as candidates furiously crisscross the state to connect with voters.
If you're wondering just how high the stakes are for the Feb. 9 New Hampshire GOP primary just look to Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
"If I get smoked here, like killed, bottom of the pack, I'm going home to Ohio, and I'll have to be with my family and my friends,” Kasich said to an enthusiastic crowd at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Raymond, New Hampshire. “But I really want to go on, and it's going to depend on this state, how well I do."
In the past few days Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum all suspended their campaigns. Political analysts say there could be even more casualties following Tuesday's primary.
Karen Mason of Greenland, New Hampshire supports Kasich, but she says this year's crowded Republican primary has not helped her candidate.
"If I get smoked here, like killed, bottom of the pack, I'm going home to Ohio, and I'll have to be with my family and my friends." — Ohio Gov. John Kasich
"There are too many Republican candidates and so the vote can get splintered among those who really ought to be continuing,” Mason says. “And we have loud people who, for whatever reason, got people's attention. And I don't think that's doing America a service."
So the pressure is intense on the remaining candidates to have a strong showing in New Hampshire.
And from VFW halls to college campuses to diners across the Granite State, GOP hopefuls are rallying the faithful and trying to convince the undecided.
They're trying to reach people like Bill Zeiler from Bow, New Hampshire.
"I'm looking to get a Republican in the White House,” says Zeiler. “I want somebody who's talking straight, and I want somebody who's electable now that may not end up the same person. They're politicians, right?"
Zeiler was at a Ted Cruz rally in Hooksett, and with less than a week until the primary he says he's still looking for a Republican candidate to support.
Keene State College political science professor William Bendix says New Hampshire is filled with people just like Zeiler.
"Voters in New Hampshire don't make up their minds until primary day,” Bendix says. “When you have close to 10 candidates competing, with a high turn-out state, with last minute decisions being made by voters, we have no idea who's going to come in first, second and third."
"Voters in New Hampshire don't make up their minds until Primary Day. When you have close to ten candidates competing... we have no idea who's going to come in first, second and third." — William Bendix, Keene State College political science professor
With such a crowded field there are still a limited number of voters to convince. And as the candidates desperately drive from one event to the next, Bendix says it is likely that one or more will not continue on to the primary contest in South Carolina.
"The numbers are going to narrow,” he says. "New Hampshire is certainly a good place to identify losers, and to narrow the field. The Republican elite wants neither Cruz nor Trump as the nominee. So they will pressure the candidates who are struggling who are unlikely to win to get out early."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who appeared in Keene early Thursday, hopes he's not one of those candidates.
Christie got less than 2 percent of the Iowa vote, and most polls place him in the single digits in New Hampshire, behind Trump, Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Christie opened the Keene town hall meeting by positioning his campaign against Rubio's, and warning voters not to be swayed by Rubio's polished image.
"You know, a winning smile and a good read off a teleprompter or a set of notes is good, but what will that do for you in a crisis?” Christie says. “You see, the choices here are too important and too big. So over the next five days I'm going to make sure you all understand what the choice is."
So-called "establishment" Republicans are looking for the candidate who will compete with, and eventually overtake, Cruz and Trump.
"You know, a winning smile and a good read off a teleprompter or a set of notes is good, but what will that do for you in a crisis? You see, the choices here are too important and too big." — Gov. Chris Christie
A strong showing in New Hampshire could go a long way in garnering support and donations. And Christie told the crowd he was the guy to both win the nomination and defeat the eventual Democratic candidate.
"You know, shopping time is running out,” Christie says. “Just a few days left for your primary shopping season. And so now, it's time for choice."
And with just four days until New Hampshire voters head to the polls, each Republican candidate hopes that his or her message resonates when it is time to make a decision.