HAMPTON, N.H. — It’s less than two days until New Hampshire voters go to the polls. But Hillary Clinton is in Michigan. And other candidates, even Jeb Bush, say their campaigns will go on no matter how they do on Tuesday. Donald Trump says he doesn’t need to win New Hampshire – but he’d like to.
From their movements and remarks on Sunday, you’d think New Hampshire is unimportant in the race for president. In fact, it’s the nation’s first primary and the next in a series of clues into what Americans want in their next president. But the field is still crowded, and the electorates that await the candidates in South Carolina and Nevada are markedly more diverse. So there are more tests to come for the candidates and the parties.
Republican hopeful Marco Rubio is downplaying his rough outing in Saturday night’s GOP debate, while touting his overall campaign momentum after his third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, hoping to use that momentum to boost his chances in Tuesday’s contest.
Donald Trump, who finished second in Iowa, is pleased with his debate performance and place atop New Hampshire’s GOP polls, and he’s doubling down Sunday on his call for the U.S. to reinstitute waterboarding and even harsher treatment of foreign prisoners.
On the Democratic side, New Hampshire favorite Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton – who narrowly won Iowa – are avoiding predictions about Tuesday and looking beyond to South Carolina and Nevada, the next two states up in the nomination process.
But for other candidates, like Republican Govs. Chris Christie, John Kasich and Jeb Bush, the task is to make sure the closing argument here isn’t their last.
Christie, fresh from a vigorous debate performance in which he battered Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as unprepared for the presidency, told a town hall crowd Sunday in Hampton, New Hampshire, that his exchanges with Rubio showed “who’s ready. I am. He’s not.”
Then he shifted his focus to Kasich and Bush, as the three governors battle for many of the same voters in an effort to remain relevant beyond New Hampshire.
As he did during Saturday’s debate, Christie credited Kasich Sunday for his management of Ohio, but then the New Jersey Legislature turned the compliment to faint praise. “It’s like Candy Land,” he argued at a campaign stop in Hampton, because Kasich gets to work with a GOP-run legislature. Democrats have run New Jersey for the duration of Christie’s tenure.
Christie told a voter that it wouldn’t necessarily be an “enormous mistake” to support Kasich. “I’m just better, because I’ve been tested,” he said.
Christie added a jab at Bush. “Go to Jeb today and ask him how the joy is going,” Christie said, a reference to Bush’s promise last summer to be “the joyful candidate” among Republicans.
Bush has called in a team of surrogates, from his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, to South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, for his final push.
He told Fox News Sunday he’s already scheduled his “first event in South Carolina” for Wednesday morning, “and we’re scheduling the Nevada trip, too.”
The three governors have pitched their experience to GOP voters for months, but have struggled to keep Rubio from establishing himself as the alternative to Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who won Iowa.
Rubio was rattled by Christie’s debate onslaught Saturday, repeating his standard critique of President Barack Obama several times and playing into Christie’s argument that the first-term senator is a scripted, inexperienced politician from a do-nothing Congress.
“You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable,” Christie told Rubio. “You just simply haven’t.”
Rubio was back on message Sunday. “People said, ‘Oh, you said the same thing three or four times.’ I’m going to say it again,” Rubio said in Londonderry, New Hampshire.
Rubio said earlier on ABC’s “This Week” that his belief about Obama’s job performance is “one of the main reasons why I am running.”
Trump, who was to campaign later Sunday, continued to insist in a CNN appearance that he came in first in Iowa, losing only because representatives of the Cruz campaign spread false rumors that Ben Carson was dropping out. Trump says Carson backers switched their votes to Cruz.
“I don’t think I have to win,” New Hampshire to keep his place among the top contenders for the nomination, Trump said Sunday on CNN, emphasizing, however, that he wants to win first.
On NBC’s “Meet The Press” Sunday, Trump stood by his promise in Saturday’s debate to reinstitute waterboarding as an interrogation method for foreign prisoners of the U.S.
The practice, accepted as torture internationally and now forbidden by U.S. law, is “peanuts” compared to what Islamic State group members practice, Trump said. “I’d go a lot further than waterboarding,” Trump said.
Cruz is not expected to fare as well in New Hampshire as in Iowa, but he made memorable marks in Saturday’s debate, first repeating his apology to Carson for the false rumors and later offering an emotional account of his half-sister’s drug addiction and eventual death.
For Democrats, Sanders drew another large crowd Sunday in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he reprised his indictment of a “rigged economy” and “corrupt campaign finance system.”
Taking a break from the New Hampshire campaign trail, Hillary Clinton stopped in Flint, Michigan, which continues to deal with the fallout of a lead-contaminated water system.
At the House of Prayer Missionary Church, Clinton noted that for two years, Flint residents drank poisoned water despite officials declaring it safe. “This is not merely unacceptable or wrong, though it is both. What happened in Flint is immoral,” Clinton said.
She urged Congress to approve $200 million to fix Flint’s water system and vowed to “fight for you in Flint no matter how long it takes.”
Barrow reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman contributed from Washington and Thomas Beaumont, Sergio Bustos, Kathleen Ronayne, Ken Thomas, Julie Pace and Julie Bykowicz contributed from New Hampshire.