- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 6, 2016

Three days out from votes being cast here in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, most of the candidates in the shrinking GOP presidential field will be have a golden opportunity in a debate Saturday night to deliver their closing argument to undecided voters.

The latest UMASS/7 News tracking polls shows businessman Donald Trump leading his closest his closest rival here, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, by a 35 percent to 14 percent margin.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is at 13 percent, and both Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are at 10 percent.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is at 4 percent. Both former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson are at 3 percent.

Most of the candidates have been busy barnstorming the state, but on Saturday hunkered down in private to prepare for the eighth Republican debate, which is being moderated by ABC’s David Muir and Martha Raddatz, at Saint Anselm College in Manchester.

This week’s the caucuses in Iowa, where Mr. Cruz, Mr. Trump and Mr. Rubio capturing the top three spots, has helped to reshuffle the race.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum have since suspended their campaigns.

And Mr. Santorum has endorsed Mr. Rubio.

So the stakes are high here in New Hampshire - in particular for Mr. Kasich, Mr. Bush, Mr. Christie and Mr. Rubio, who are battling to emerge as the the top pick of voters that are looking for alternatives to Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, will return to the debate stage after skipping the seventh showdown in Iowa, where he finished second.

The New York billionaire is hoping a victory here will show voters he can translate his political celebrity into victories.

Mr. Kasich held his 100th town hall event here on Friday.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Christie have focused their fire in recent days on Mr. Trump and Mr. Rubio, in hopes of boosting their chances in Tuesday’s primary.

Mr. Rubio has made the case that he is the best bet to unify conservatives and Republicans heading into the Nov. 8 general election.

Mrs. Fiorina, meanwhile, missed the cut for the ABC debate, and has since showered the Republican National Committee and ABC with criticism.

“Ever since I started running for president in May of last year, I have been telling you the game is rigged,” she said during a campaign stop Saturday in Goffstown, N.H. “If you ever doubt the game is rigged, look at what is going on on that debate stage.”

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