- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 7, 2016

HAMPTON, N.H. | Republican presidential contender Chris Christie took a victory lap Sunday after landing some memorable punches in the previous night’s debate against Sen. Marco Rubio, hoping his combative performance will revive his campaign.

Mr. Christie, the governor of New Jersey whose campaign has faltered, hopes that if he can dent Mr. Rubio and that supporters of the senator from Florida will naturally flow to him Tuesday, when New Hampshire holds its first-in-the-nation primary.

Voters are expected to winnow the Republican field substantially, particularly with Mr. Rubio and three current or former governors all angling to be the champion of more moderate-minded Republican voters.

“We cannot nominate a first-term United States senator, and the media and the chattering class is trying to stampede New Hampshire into handing this thing over to somebody who I have been saying for weeks has not been tested, has not been proven and, when the lights go on, I told you, ‘He wouldn’t be ready,’” Mr. Christie said at a town hall meeting a day after he carved up Mr. Rubio’s qualifications in a prime-time debate.

Mr. Christie said Mr. Rubio lacked the experience to be president and said senators make poor picks for the White House because they talk and vote but don’t take responsibility for policies.

The front pages of newspapers Sunday were not kind to Mr. Rubio, and at least some voters were peeling away.

Patti Visconte Robinson, of Hampton, said she was “100 percent” set to vote for Mr. Rubio before the debate, but now she plans on backing Mr. Christie.

“Honestly, he was not even on my radar … until last night,” she said of Mr. Christie. “I went from Trump [to] Rubio, and now I am absolutely voting for” Mr. Christie.

Eric Cady, 47, of Hampton, said that he has been leaning toward Mr. Kasich, but that after the debate and the meeting here that he is thinking also about supporting Mr. Christie.

“I wasn’t on the fence, and now I am,” Mr. Cady said, describing the decision as “agonizing.” “So I am firmly back on the fence, and I am going to be struggling with this for another 48 hours.”

Seeking to regain his footing, Mr. Rubio touted his foreign policy experience as giving him an edge on the governors.

“No one on that stage has a better understanding or has shown better judgment on foreign policy than I have, period,” Mr. Rubio said on ABC “This Week.” “I think I demonstrated that last night, and I’ve demonstrated that throughout the campaign.”

With businessman Donald Trump firmly ensconced in first place in the polling here, the candidates have given up trying to reel him in, meaning the critical battle is now for second place.

Mr. Rubio had been polling well last week, as had Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Mr. Christie was far back in polling.

Mr. Rubio argues he’s the best positioned to defeat Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton in November.

“The truth of the matter is that we have to nominate someone who can first and foremost win,” he said at a campaign rally in Bedford, pointing to Democrats’ repeated attacks on him as evidence that he is the candidate they fear the most. “I am the only one left running that can unify quickly the conservative movement. We cannot win if we are divided.”

While the GOP race is heated, the Democratic race appears to be winding down in New Hampshire, where Mrs. Clinton, who won the Iowa caucuses by the slimmest of margins, seems to have all but conceded the state to Sen. Bernard Sanders.

The RealClearPolitics average of New Hampshire surveys puts Mr. Sanders 15 points ahead of Mrs. Clinton; some surveys have the self-described “democratic socialist” leading by more than 20 percentage points.

Mrs. Clinton has insinuated Mr. Sanders is benefiting from home-state advantage, coming from neighboring Vermont, but Mr. Sanders rejected that in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

“You know what? Secretary Clinton won this state in 2008. Her husband ran several campaigns in this state. When we began this campaign here in New Hampshire, we were 30 points down in the polls and she was much better known in this state than I was,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton fled the state Sunday to tour Flint, Michigan, where high levels of lead in drinking water have spawned a public health crisis. While Mrs. Clinton has spoken extensively about Flint in recent weeks, her decision to leave New Hampshire just two days before the primary seemed to suggest she was throwing in the towel.

She said Sunday she’s simply not sure whether she can overtake Mr. Sanders and pull out a New Hampshire victory.

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” she told CNN on Sunday. “I’m just going to work as hard as I can. I love the New Hampshire primary.”

While she’s in Flint, Mr. Sanders was rallying in New Hampshire.

The candidates in the GOP presidential field also fanned out across the state trying to win the large pool of undecided voters. Some pollsters say as much as half of the electorate hasn’t settled on a candidate.

A Monmouth Poll released Sunday found that Mr. Trump is leading his closest rival, Mr. Kasich, by a 30 percent-to-14 percent margin. They are followed by Mr. Rubio and Mr. Bush, who are both at 13 percent, and Mr. Cruz at 12 percent.

From there it drops off to Mr. Christie at 6 percent, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina with 5 percent and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson garnering 4 percent.

The poll did not reflect voters’ response to the GOP presidential debate.

Mr. Trump, who is seeking a clear win after finishing second in Iowa, celebrated his debate performance during a rally at Plymouth State University, saying “even people who hate me gave me good marks — isn’t that amazing?”

“One of them said, ‘He won the debate. I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it,’” he said. “They were almost crying.”

Mr. Trump led in the polls in Iowa ahead of voting there but fell short in the caucuses, which are a test of campaigns’ organizational strength. New Hampshire holds a primary, for which such virtues matter less.

Mr. Bush continued to paint himself as the anti-Trump, while Mr. Kasich continued to strike an optimistic note, saying that he has shown the ability to bring people together to get things done.

“We are all connected. Everybody on this earth is connected. We are all just part of a mosaic in a moment of time, and when people are broken, it hurts all of us,” Mr. Kasich said.

In Saturday’s debate, Mr. Christie got the best of his exchange with Mr. Rubio, who he warned is too inexperienced to be president and slammed him for trying to defend himself with canned responses.

Less than 24 hours later, Mr. Christie called himself a reliable — and stinky — old truck he said the GOP can ride to victory in November, navigating the mud he predicted Mrs. Clinton will sling.

“Do you want the old truck or the new truck to get you through that mud?” Mr. Christie said. “You nominate this old truck, and let me tell you what is going to happen: I am [going to] get through that mud, and I’m going to run here right over on my way to the White House.”

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