- 03 февраля 2016, 01:19
- POLITICO. Top Stories
Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich now have a clear goal for their long-shot efforts in New Hampshire: Stop Marco Rubio.
Since the 44-year-old Florida senator entered the presidential race, his rivals for the support of establishment Republicans have spoken of him as a candidate running more on his youthful potential and personal story as the son of Cuban immigrants than on any record of accomplishment.
But after his strong finish in the Iowa caucuses — in which Bush, Christie, and Kasich barely registered — Rubio is running downhill. And if his establishment rivals are to avoid getting crushed beneath, they’ll have to do in New Hampshire what they couldn’t in Iowa: find a line of attack that slows him down.
But how? At various points, Bush, Christie and Kasich each tried to paint Rubio as a rookie senator and immigration flip-flopper. Rubio finished third in Iowa anyway, within a whisker of Donald Trump and miles ahead of anyone else in his lane.
This time around, on top of their standard attacks, Bush, Christie and Kasich are adding a localized approach. Their message to New Hampshire voters: Rubio doesn’t love you like we do, and he doesn’t deserve your love back.
Separately, the three camps are plotting a barrage of criticism in the days to come, largely to accuse Rubio of failing to put in the one-to-one courtship with New Hampshire voters and then attempting to waltz in late and walk away with their hearts.
"I think the voters will expect a certain level of exposure here that they haven't gotten in terms of asking [Rubio] tough questions," a top Christie adviser said.
“These [Rubio] town halls are very quick; they're in and out. He doesn't make a speech. He doesn't really take very many questions. He doesn't do gaggles with reporters. And so that's what the voters here expect," the adviser said, confirming that Christie would contrast that approach with his own emphasis on New Hampshire. "How will he do under that spotlight?”
Christie reinforced that message Tuesday, ripping Rubio for allegedly hiding from voters. “Unlike some of these other campaigns, I'm not the boy in the bubble, OK? We know who the boy in the bubble is up here, who never answers questions, who's constantly scripted and controlled because he can't answer your questions.”
Christie plans to point toward his own dogged focus on town hall and retail campaigning in New Hampshire, which the New Jersey governor has made something of a second home during the campaign. Christie has scooped up endorsements from prominent New Hampshire Republican activists and local lawmakers (Christie on Tuesday rolled out yet another one — state Sen. Nancy Stiles). In an "Update from New Hampshire" email to supporters on Tuesday, Christie communications director Sam Smith said Christie's team spent $600,000 in Iowa while Rubio spent $11.8 million to place third.
The Rubio campaign brushes aside the charge, and the candidate himself took on Christie's bubble comment Tuesday afternoon.
"Chris has had a tough couple of days," Rubio said in an interview with ABC News at Puritan Backroom restaurant. "He's not doing very well, and he did very poorly in Iowa. And sometimes when people run into adversity they don't react well and they say things they maybe will later regret."
Bush and Kasich aren’t coordinating with Christie or with each other, but they’re taking a similar line of attack. On a conference call on Tuesday, Kasich chief strategist John Weaver accused Rubio of largely ignoring New Hampshire until now.
"While he has a unique political talent he hasn't really done the New Hampshire campaigning. He's not had a heavy schedule, he's not had a heavy ground game," Weaver said before going on to contrast Rubio as a inexperienced senator running against the proven Kasich.
Bush’s team is downplaying Iowa’s importance and saying New Hampshire will reset the race.
"Frankly, right now Marco doesn't have much of a footprint in the state," a Bush GOP operative working in New Hampshire said. "He didn't invest that much time here as he did in Iowa. So when you come into New Hampshire, the whole race kind of recalibrates. I think you can go down the list of people who have performed well in Iowa, it doesn't necessarily apply to New Hampshire. So it's a completely different electorate, a different thought process."
The numbers support Rubio’s rivals’ claim that he hasn’t been on their level in terms of specific New Hampshire attention. According to NECN's New Hampshire candidate tracker, Christie has done 176 stops in New Hampshire, Kasich 180 and Bush 106.
That puts all of them well beyond Rubio, who has done 76.
That’s a risk in a state where voters pride themselves on favoring only the most persistent candidates. That’s why Kasich held endless town halls and why Christie texted lawmakers over and over — even those already committed to other candidates.
The pro-Kasich super PAC tried to get a head start on Rubio-bashing late Sunday night. The super PAC, New Day for America, produced a new ad attacking Rubio on his opposition to renewing the Violence Against Women Act, using a clip of Sen. Kelly Ayotte. The ad received massive blowback, including from Weaver and Kasich himself, and was taken down. Still, Matt David, the chief strategist for the super PAC, said knocks on Rubio's lack of groundwork in New Hampshire is something that would come up more and more as he campaigns here ahead of next Tuesday's primary.
"That's his biggest challenge. I'd say historically New Hampshire voters have rewarded candidates who have put in time at town halls and parades and farmers markets. House parties," David said. "And they typically have not supported or have given less support to candidates who have parachuted in to do a quick event and then go to a fundraiser. So Rubio's overall challenge is to try to change voter tendencies in New Hampshire, which is not an easy task."
Barring a major miss in the polling or a last-minute mass-defection among Trump supporters, the establishment candidates are more competing with each other than they are to win the state. The RealClearPolitics average on Tuesday had Trump leading the field at 33.7 percentage points, followed by Sen. Ted Cruz at 11.5 percentage points.
Among the establishment, the race is still tight. RCP puts Kasich at 11.3 percentage points, Bush at 10.5, Rubio at 10.2 and Christie at 5.8. Those polls, however, were conducted before the Iowa caucus and won't account for any of its effects.
New Hampshire is only the race's second contest, and relatively few delegates are at stake. But it has an added urgency in the race for the establishment mantle. These Republicans are supposed to be of the ilk that would carry an establishment to victory, and as Cruz and Trump continue to lead the polls and commandeer the national attention, a nervous establishment is looking to pick its champion quickly.