Kasich, Christie, Bush Seek Redemption in N.H.

Kasich, Christie, Bush Seek Redemption in N.H.
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With disappointing Iowa finishes in their rearview mirror, the three governors in the GOP presidential race view New Hampshire as their time to shine.

The Granite State offers Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich a final shot at redemption in a contest that has so far rewarded new politicians and first-term senators. All three have tailored their campaigns to New Hampshire, hoping its primary system, slightly more mainstream Republican base, and sizable chunk of independent voters will prove favorable.

But the governors, who each registered just a couple of percentage points in Iowa, can’t ignore the caucus results that figure to change the once favorable dynamic in New Hampshire. Marco Rubio, viewed as their top competitor, garnered a strong third place finish in the Hawkeye State. That showing gives him valuable momentum a week ahead of the primary -- and credentials to possibly solidify his support in the mainstream Republican lane.

Rubio’s standing—which he considered tantamount to victory— also comes with peril. He landed in New Hampshire Tuesday with a big target on his back.

Christie wasted no time deriding his rival, whom he has slammed more harshly in recent weeks as too young, inexperienced, and without a record of accomplishments. On Tuesday, the New Jersey governor ratcheted up the attacks. He described Rubio as “the boy in the bubble” who is “constantly scripted and controlled because he can't answer your questions.”

Rubio attributed Christie’s criticism to the notion that “he’s not doing very well, and he did very poorly in Iowa.”

It remains to be seen whether Rubio’s Iowa finish propels him in next week’s voting. The RealClearPolitics polling average for New Hampshire shows him slightly behind Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Kasich but far behind Donald Trump. But if the Iowa results are any indication, the dynamics in this race may shift by Election Day.

“He’s going to come to New Hampshire and he better be ready,” Christie said in an interview with NBC News. “He's gotta answer questions, gotta campaign with people, and not just in controlled circumstances. So, I'm interested to see how he does in the next week.”

Rubio supporters believe the Iowa results will help convince New Hampshire voters settled on someone else to move to the Florida senator in the coming days. Some surrogates note that an optimistic message from Rubio could serve him well in the first primary state. “He just has to continue to do what he has been doing, staying on line and staying positive,” Sen. Jim Inhofe advised, asserting that Iowa “elevated” Rubio from the rest of the pack.

The New Hampshire rivalries figure to be on prominent display Saturday when the candidates debate for the final time before voters weigh in on Feb. 9. Additionally, with the exception of Trump, the contenders have an intense campaign schedule throughout this week and weekend. With the fates of so many campaigns at stake, the GOP race is expected to get more heated and competitive than ever.

While Trump’s lead in Iowa didn’t hold up on caucus night, New Hampshire is more fertile territory for him in terms of disaffected voters and a less evangelical electorate. Additionally, independent voters can vote in either party’s primary, which could help the real estate mogul – unless a sizeable chunk votes Democratic in order to support Bernie Sanders.

Bush’s super PAC has been focused in large part on taking down Rubio. But the campaign is also targeting the front-runner, especially in the final days before the primary. On Tuesday, the former Florida governor released a two-minute TV ad in New Hampshire that urges voters to “turn off Trump.” 

Bush supporters remain hopeful that their candidate’s work ethic and policy approach will elevate him in the final days before Tuesday’s voting.

“Iowa was not Jeb Bush’s main message. The main message is not social, it’s economic,” said Rep. Pete Sessions. Asked whether momentum by Rubio could impact Bush’s future beyond New Hampshire, the Texas congressman said, “I think it would factor. … You’ve got to at some point, just say, ‘Well, my message just didn’t work as well as I thought it would.’ But we’re not there yet.”

Cruz could also have a surprise showing. While his campaign is more in line with the electorate of Iowa and the Southern states, there is a conservative base in New Hampshire that could give him a strong enough finish to propel him into South Carolina later this month. Cruz traveled around New Hampshire on a bus tour last month, and began campaigning again there on Tuesday before flying to the Palmetto State.

Congressional correspondent James Arkin contributed to this report.

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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