- The Washington Times - Monday, February 1, 2016

HOPKINGTON, N.H. — Having given up on a strong showing in Iowa, the three establishment governors still in the GOP presidential race spent Monday in New Hampshire, hoping to rescue their campaigns in next week’s primary.

Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Chris Christie of New Jersey and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush all insist they’re in the race to stay, and urged voters to rally around them as mainstream Republicans’ answer to Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz — the duo that have taken the party’s presidential primary by storm.

“We made a mistake seven years ago; we can’t afford to make another one. If we do, we won’t recognize this country,” Mr. Christie told a crowd at the Hopkinton Town Hall. “For the next eight days, you are the most powerful people in the world.”

The three governors essentially skipped Iowa, where conservative evangelical voters dominate the caucuses, and have put their hopes on New Hampshire, where socially moderate voters are prevalent, and where independent candidates can vote in the Feb. 9 primary.

The RealClearPolitics.com average of polls suggests that Mr. Trump is comfortably ahead with a third of the vote. That means the race is for second place, with Mr. Kasich and Mr. Cruz tied at 11.5 percent of the vote each, followed by Mr. Bush at 10.3 percent, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida at 9.5 percent and Mr. Christie at 6.5 percent.

It’s unlikely the three governors and Mr. Rubio can all emerge from New Hampshire as credible candidates — and they know it.

“There are people we need to finish ahead of, and we intend to do that,” said John Weaver, a senior Kasich adviser. “We want to clear out some people that we compete with for activists and donor support around the country.”

Former New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Fergus Cullen, who endorsed Mr. Kasich, described the New Hampshire contests as “an existential death struggle between Kasich and Rubio and Christie and Bush.”

“They don’t have to beat Trump, they don’t have to win New Hampshire, but they have to beat each other,” he said, arguing that it would help prove their viability. “If you finish third in that bracket, how can you possibly persuade mainstream Republicans and donors around the country that you are showing strength and they ought to consolidate around you?”

The foursome and their allied political action committees have been trading punches for weeks in the hopes of generating some momentum by cutting the legs out from under their opponents — and the barbs continued on Monday.

Mr. Christie warned against electing Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz, saying the Obama administration serves as a cautionary tale about what happens when a first-term senator lacking executive experience wins the White House.

“Rubio and Cruz have never managed a thing, and yet we are thinking of making the same mistake from a leadership perspective that Democrats made — and our country made — eight years ago,” Mr. Christie said. “[President Obama] failed us because he ran for the presidency because it was politically advantageous, not because he was ready.”

Mr. Kasich, meanwhile, challenged Mr. Christie and Mr. Bush at a pair of campaign stops to follow his lead by pulling the plug on negative attacks, and calling on their allied super PACs to do the same.

“I hope Christie and Bush will take all their negative crap off the air and get their super PACs to talk about what they are for,” Mr. Kasich told reporters after a town hall meeting in Rochester, New Hampshire.

“It is pretty interesting with Bush,” he said. “He spent about $40 million trying to tell people who he was and it didn’t work, so now he plays whack-a-mole — whoever rises, you know, they go and beat them down. It is a hell of a way to run. It is taking the low road to the highest office in the country, and it is not acceptable.”

Mr. Kasich said a group backing him switched out a negative ad against Mr. Rubio after his campaign made it clear through Twitter that it wanted dirty politics to stop. The campaigns are prohibited from speaking directly to allied super PACs.

A spokesperson for the Christie camp dismissed the demand as “typical Washington doublespeak.”

Kasich’s own super PAC not only had to take down their latest attack ad today, but they’ve spent more than $750,000 attacking Gov. Christie over the past few months and thousands more against other candidates in the month of January alone,” said Nicole Sizemore, a Christie campaign spokesperson. “Not exactly the shining example of the positive campaign he is so desperately trying to convey.”

The Bush camp did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Ultimately it will be up to voters like Amy VanSplunder and her husband, Tim, both 60, to sort it out.

“I kind of favor the politicians who are acting governors or have been governors,” said Mrs. VanSplunder, who attended the Kasich rally in Rochester but is still undecided in the race. “I think they have a lot more experience governing in office, rather than someone who gets elected to the House or the Senate. They don’t have any governorship experience.”

As for Mr. Trump, her husband, Tim, a former retired Air Force colonel, said: “I think he is a pompous ass.”

“People like the fact that he says what he thinks, but I don’t know how you can get anything done poking your finger in everyone’s eyeball,” he said.

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