NASHUA, N.H. — Republican presidential candidates and hopefuls were in New Hampshire this weekend for a party conference, the first gathering of its kind this year in the first-in-the-nation primary state. Politicians already in the 2016 race or considering a run gave speeches, answered questions from voters and reporters and tested their campaign skills in stops across the state. Some things to know about the state of the race:
FUTURE IS WIDE OPEN
One thing is clear after 20 presidential prospects campaigned in New Hampshire this weekend: The 2016 Republican primary contest is wide open. The establishment favorite, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, continues to struggle with his party’s base; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio proved they deserve serious consideration; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie flashed extraordinary political skills and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul continued his push to create a new coalition. Several others with impressive resumes – Ohio Gov. John Kasich among them – were also on hand, fighting to emerge.
LOSING THE PRIMARY TO WIN THE GENERAL?
Bush said he had an “I’m-not-kidding conservative record” as Florida governor, but he did little to convince skeptical Republicans of his conservative bona fides this past weekend. He called on world leaders to address climate change, endorsed a pathway to legal status for immigrants in the country illegally and refused to back away from his support for Common Core education standards. The positions are deal-breakers for some of the GOP’s most passionate voters. Bush seems to be testing his own theory that presidential candidates should be willing to “lose the primary to win the general” election.
RAND GOING HIS OWN WAY
The libertarian-leaning Paul continues to distinguish himself from the crowded field. He repeatedly attacked fellow Republicans on foreign policy and spending, knocked the GOP’s strategy of courting business owners instead of their employees and a devoted a significant portion of his remarks to courting minorities, young people and those living in poverty. Paul is trying to create a new Republican coalition and transform his party, as his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, did in the 2012 presidential primary campaign.
CHRISTIE BACK IN THE GAME
Once considered an early front-runner, Christie arrived in New Hampshire as an afterthought among the candidates, but he reminded the political world that it’s far too soon to write him off. Christie flashed his considerable political skills during a speech on entitlements, at retail stops and at two town hall meetings where he seemed to connect well with the audience. His challenges remain significant, but the two-term governor signaled that he’s not going away anytime soon. He told potential voters he’ll be back often and articulated the rationale for his candidacy in detail.
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT HILLARY
Hillary Rodham Clinton was a regular punching bag this weekend, but the diverse and crowded Republican field was often more focused on their own records and the contrasts between their GOP competitors. Governors highlighted the executive experience that members of Congress may lack, members of Congress focused on the foreign policy experience the governors may lack and the business leaders knocked Washington insiders and longtime politicians. Several GOP officials urged the candidates to save their venom for Democrats, but it’s clear the 2016 Republican primary won’t be as quick and painless as the Republican National Committee would like.