WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Voters in New Hampshire are getting their last looks at the candidates on the ballot in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
Candidates still running have spent a total 444 days on the ground in New Hampshire, according to Manchester TV station WMUR, while the candidates and super PACs supporting them have spent a combined $84 million in New Hampshire, according to The New York Times.
That’s a lot of time and a lot of time money to win over the roughly half-a-million primary voters who are likely to vote.
And, last night, seven Republican candidates shared the debate stage.
Leading in pre-primary polls, businessman Donald Trump stood center stage.
DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Candidate: We’re going to win with Trump. We’re going to win. We don’t win anymore. Our country doesn’t win anymore.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The Republicans expressed their near-united opposition to higher taxes, not even for people earning more than a million dollars a year, said Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), Presidential Candidate: I don’t know of any problem in America that’s going to be fixed with a tax increase.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But Rubio was a consistent target last night. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie led the charge, saying the 44-year-old freshman senator was too inexperienced to lead the nation.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), Presidential Candidate: You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable. You just simply haven’t.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Christie, who’s trying to break out of the pack, repeatedly attacked Rubio, even when Rubio listed his Senate record.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: The fact when you talk about a Hezbollah sanctions act that you list as one of your accomplishments, and just did, you weren’t even there to vote for it. That’s not leadership. That’s truancy.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who once filibustered to defund President Obama’s health care plan, got a chance to explain how he would replace it.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), Presidential Candidate: We will de-link health insurance from employment, so that you don’t lose your health insurance when you lose your job, and that way, health insurance can be personal, portable and affordable.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: When asked about North Korea’s latest rocket launch, which was revealed right before the debate, most candidates said they needed more information.
But former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was quick to say he would consider military action.
JEB BUSH (R), Presidential Candidate: The next president of the United States is going to have to get the United States back in the game, and if a preemptive strike is necessary to keep us safe, then we should do it.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: With the debates over, candidates are now focused on getting out the vote.
Ohio Governor John Kasich has held 100 town meetings here.
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), Presidential Candidate: We got the best army in New Hampshire. They’re going to knock on everybody’s doors, whether it rains, whether it snows. It doesn’t matter.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Democrat Hillary Clinton won this primary back in 2008.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), Presidential Candidate: It’s a beautiful day in Manchester.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But the former secretary of state knows history may not repeat itself. She trails Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders here, and criticized him today for continually saying that she is beholden to Wall Street donors.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: What the Sanders campaign is trying to do is link donations to my political campaign, or really donations to anyone’s political campaign, with undue influence, with changing people’s views and votes. I have never, ever done that.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Sanders today did credit Clinton’s experience, but repeated his view that her Senate vote approving the 2003 Iraq War showed poor judgment.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), Presidential Candidate: I will do everything that I can to make sure that our young men and women in the military do not get sucked into a perpetual warfare in the quagmire of the Middle East.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That was a more serious turn than his self-deprecating cameo in a “Saturday Night Live” skit inspired by the Titanic.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I’m so sick of the 1 percent getting this preferential treatment.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The “NewsHour”‘s political director, Lisa Desjardins, is in New Hampshire covering the presidential campaign. And she joins me now from Manchester.
So, Lisa, I know you have been at a bunch of these campaign events, both Democratic and Republican events. What are the kinds of people who are showing up at these things?
LISA DESJARDINS: William, it’s fascinating.
You see, actually, more than I ever have before on the campaign trail, political tourists. When I go to one of these events, the very first thing I have to ask someone is, are you a New Hampshire voter? And honest to goodness, it takes 10, 15 minutes sometimes to find a New Hampshire voter at these events, people coming not just from New Jersey, Connecticut, but from Indiana, Wisconsin.
So, it’s hard to judge by the crowd sizes, when you’re watching these speeches on TV, whether a candidate really is bringing in New Hampshire voters. Some of these folks are here for the theater. Some are here because they wish their state had as much influence as New Hampshire does.
Also, at these events, though, I’m starting to see undecided voters who really want to make a decision, but are having trouble. And I think that’s really the story right now this weekend, William. There are a lot of soft voters, especially on the Republican side.
And I want to point out, I honestly do not trust the polls. I’m never a huge believer in polls, but, especially in New Hampshire and especially for this race, William, I have several voters tell me that they have stopped answering their phone, they’re not responding to pollsters.
And I had two voters, William, tell me that they specifically are just answering Trump, because they think that is what the pollster wants to hear, and they want to get off the phone.
But I think it’s an indication that voters are still making up their minds, and perhaps pollsters — it’s not something you can really put your entire faith in right now in New Hampshire. There is a lot to be said and decided still.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Do you have any sense that these last-minute moves, Sanders doing “Saturday Night Live” or Clinton visiting Flint, Michigan, do you have a sense that that could move the needle at all?
LISA DESJARDINS: I do think it’s a confident candidate that does a sort of Titanic skit a couple days before a big election.
But I think that there are still some undecided voters in the Democratic race. How many, I’m not sure. I think that the Hillary Clinton campaign is doing a good job trying to set expectations, so that if she loses just by double digits, they want to say that’s a win.
But they are going on the attack, William. Hillary Clinton held a conference call with reporters today about Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy, basically attacking him where they think he’s weak.
Bernie Sanders is countering by saying, hey, wait a minute, team Clinton, you made that same attack on a man named Barack Obama in 2008, said he wasn’t ready for foreign policy, and look what happened there.
So, we are seeing some very clear, strong positioning from those two Democrats. I think there is still a little give room, but the expectations game is really where it’s at.
One quick note I want to mention on the Republican side, I want to talk about John Kasich. I think he’s very important to watch. I just came from one of his events. He has a real ability to engage with a crowd, low-key, but yet energy that a lot of New Hampshire residents seem to like.
And one note about that, William. When you drive around New Hampshire right now, you see a lot of political signs. But when you look closely, in the intersections, you see tons of Donald Trump signs, maybe tons of Jeb Bush signs. You drive on the back roads of New Hampshire, and you just go — these small little lanes, the signs I see most there in people’s yards are for John Kasich.
And that’s a sign that he’s been here a long time and that he has individuals supporting him, and not just a large campaign team.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, the “NewsHour”‘s political director, Lisa Desjardins, thanks, as always, for your great reporting.
LISA DESJARDINS: My pleasure.