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Robin Smith / February 8, 2016

The Great Granite State Debate

New Hampshire’s primary is Tuesday; Republicans take the stage.

Saturday night, many Americans may have been shopping for their favorite tailgate items for Sunday’s Super Bowl. However, the GOP debate televised nationally from the next voting site, New Hampshire, offered a glimpse at a field of candidates that have an acute awareness that there will be even fewer candidates headed to South Carolina in a week should they not deliver a credible performance.

The GOP voter base of New Hampshire has greater focus on fiscal, economic and national security issues, whereas voters in Iowa and South Carolina put greater emphasis on cultural concerns. Noting those facts, the campaigns of Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, in particular, have lower expectations in the Granite State. Conversely, the teams of John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio are scratching it out in hopes of pulling votes from Donald Trump and any others who remain uncommitted or undecided.

The apparent battle for second place in New Hampshire occurred Saturday evening among GOP primary contenders who are faced with a growing demand to either deliver votes or pack up and leave the field. With the New Hampshire primaries beginning Tuesday and polling that currently has Trump up 15-17 points over any second-place candidate, there remains a solid 30% of likely voters who remain undecided.

An interesting read published last week in New York Magazine catalogued 100 conversations with those who planned to participate in the Iowa Caucus and likely voters for New Hampshire’s primary. Despite the ideological variances of these Republicans who are just over 1,200 miles apart, a common theme emerged among those interviewed. When surveyed, “National security and the economy ranked among their top concerns, and health care, immigration, and gun control were important.” Yet, the article noted, “If there was anything almost all of the respondents sought in a candidate, it was testicular fortitude — or, in less colorful terms, strength.”

It seems whether you’re standing in an Iowa cornfield or on a snow-covered mount in New Hampshire, this year’s GOP-primary voter is more motivated by mood than by policy. Apparently, voter sentiment in New Hampshire seems equally sick and tired of working to get Republicans elected who are invertebrates living fearfully under the politically correct mandates of Barack Obama and the Leftmedia more than the voters in their own states and districts.

Keep this reference to voter sentiment in mind. It was relevant to one GOP candidate during the debate.

What were the highlights of the debate?

Essentially, the billing could’ve been the three governors piling on Marco Rubio. The biggest tussle occurred between Chris Christie and Rubio. Using his effective former prosecutor skills to guide the debate audience through one of those “Matlock moments” that was only devoid of the little slip of paper pulled from his pocket in the final scene, Christie declared, “You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable. You just simply haven’t.” Christie also hit Rubio on an “accomplishment” named by the one-term senator, the Hezbollah Sanctions Act, with the revelation that Rubio missed the vote. Christie leveled the boom with the narrative of a senator who doesn’t do his day job: “That’s not leadership, that’s truancy.”

The exchange was certainly damaging to Rubio’s polished-debater image, and it could blunt the momentum he’s gained since Iowa. That said, grassroots voters may not think the way Beltway and New York pundits do, so the exchange may not move votes much. Pro-tip for Rubio: Remind voters of your substantial work to undo a significant portion of ObamaCare. That was actual, meaningful success, as opposed to a no-win shutdown.

The Iowa Caucus winner, Ted Cruz, had a shining moment when presented with that “3 a.m.” type question that drew in a current event featuring the nutcase running North Korea. ABC moderator Martha Radditz asked Cruz’ response as commander in chief to the nuclear equipped nation’s test firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Cruz nicely tied the billions of funding that flowed to the rogue nation under Bill Clinton’s bargain with the hermit kingdom in the 1990s to parallel the failed Iranian nuclear deal, in which the mullahs now find themselves flush with cash thanks to Barack Obama.

Cruz also won hearts and minds when addressing the personal loss of his step sister to a drug overdose as he responded to the heroine epidemic in America. He boiled it down to the need to secure the borders to stop the ease of availability of the deadly drug that kills its addicted consumers.

Jeb Bush had one of his better nights making effective points on policy (though that’s not saying much). In particular, he excelled in cornering Trump on the use of eminent domain. In the 1990s, Trump unsuccessfully sought eminent domain of a woman’s property for his commercial benefit. While Bush exposed a tactic used for “The Donald’s” potential profits in years past, Trump’s rebuttal was absolutely accurate. The Keystone Pipeline project that is so very heavily supported by the center-right and even some unions would not be very effective without the utilization of eminent domain. That said, the real question is not whether eminent domain is ever acceptable, but when and for what.

While John Kasich offered reminders of the large commitment of time he has spent campaigning in the Granite State, he stumbled a bit when asked to address his own words about changing the definition of conservatism if elected. The Ohioan quickly moved to his talking points used to justify his role to expand ObamaCare in his home state, which is already over budget, by continuing to employ government spending in a center-left fashion in faux philanthropy and call it “compassionate conservatism.”

Back to that voter survey last week that illuminated the common theme of GOP voters’ desire to have a candidate of strength, or “testicular fortitude.”

On several occasions, Trump referred to speaking with New Hampshire voters who say, “Our country doesn’t win any more.” In his closing remarks he specified, “We don’t win with health care. We don’t win with trade.” Using voter sentiment, the consistent leader of the New Hampshire polls declared, “If I’m elected president, we will win, we will win, we will win.”

The take home message from the New Hampshire debate was simple: Some candidates were selling their policies and a very few were fitting an unmet need in the minds and hearts of a very angry electorate.

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