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Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire


U.S. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaks at a town hall campaign rally in Derry, New Hampshire, Feb. 5, 2016.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaks at a town hall campaign rally in Derry, New Hampshire, Feb. 5, 2016.

As the days count down to primary election day in New Hampshire on Tuesday, some Republican voters here seem to be flocking to the contender they believe now has momentum — Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Rubio has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump. But there is a crowded field right behind Rubio, including the winner of the Iowa caucuses, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Ohio Governor John Kasich and former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

Looking to be inspired

Rubio's appeal was on display at a rally in Derry Friday night. The rally had to be moved from a middle school cafeteria to the gymnasium because of a larger than expected crowd eager to give Rubio a listen. Rubio said he was the Republican candidate best able to not only unify the conservative movement and the Republican Party, but the country as well.

WATCH: Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

“When I am president I will be the president of the United States of America. I will be a president for all Americans and even if you don't like me, even if you don't like me, even if you didn't vote for me, even if you say nasty things about me on Facebook, I am going to cut your taxes too,” Rubio said to cheers from the crowd.

In the final days of the primary race, Rubio is trying to seize the moment by building on the momentum he generated coming out of Iowa where he finished a strong third just behind second-place finisher Trump. Rubio believes a good finish here in New Hampshire could move him into the final group of three or four top contenders who would go on to compete in upcoming elections in states like Nevada and South Carolina.

Campaigning New Hampshire-style

Rubio has embraced the New Hampshire style of interacting with voters and his one-on-one political skills were on full display after the rally as he took time to briefly shake hands with voters, answer a few questions and pose for numerous 'selfies.'

After hearing Rubio speak, retirees John and Christine Perez of Londonderry said they intend to cast their votes for him in Tuesday's primary.

“I was won over tonight. I was right there but I got pushed over the edge,” said Christine Perez. Her husband, John, said he believes he and Rubio “share the same values.”

Another voter, Evan Marks, said he liked what he heard but remains undecided. “He speaks from the heart, you know, and I think that is what a lot of us are looking for, somebody who can say something that is very honest and you believe him. He's very believable and I think that's what we need. That is a good place to start.” Marks is one of a number of New Hampshire voters encountered who said they attend several different candidate events before making a choice.

Rubio appears to have an opening in New Hampshire, said analyst Chris Galdieri of St. Anselm College near Manchester. “He's young. He is Cuban-American. He is from a major swing state. So if you are a Republican who doesn't like the rap against your party that it is a party of old white men, then at least you've got a young Hispanic man who is potentially going to lead your party and I think that is appealing for a lot of people.”

A battle among establishment contenders

Rubio is vying to become the top choice of so-called 'establishment voters' in New Hampshire, a crowded lane that includes Kasich, Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican presidential candidate, speaks at a town hall-style campaign stop at the Strafford Farms Restaurant in Dover, N.H., Feb. 5, 2016.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican presidential candidate, speaks at a town hall-style campaign stop at the Strafford Farms Restaurant in Dover, N.H., Feb. 5, 2016.

Christie is well back in the latest polls and risks falling out of the field with a poor showing in New Hampshire. Christie has called Rubio “bubble boy” for giving the same speech everywhere he goes without answering any questions. Christie has held numerous town meetings in New Hampshire that feature voters asking questions that sometimes go on for two hours.

Jeb Bush has also criticized Rubio, calling him “a great guy” but adding “he's not a leader.” Bush is also in danger of slipping from the race unless he can demonstrate a good showing in New Hampshire and he's enlisted the help of his mom, former first lady Barbara Bush, to win some voters over to his campaign.

Barbara Bush jokes with her son, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, while introducing him at a town hall meeting at West Running Brook Middle School in Derry, N.H., Feb. 4, 2016.

Barbara Bush jokes with her son, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, while introducing him at a town hall meeting at West Running Brook Middle School in Derry, N.H., Feb. 4, 2016.



Christie looks for momentum

Christie made a quick stop by a pizzeria in Sandown and made yet another appeal for support on Tuesday. “There is a lot of hard work to do between now and Tuesday. We hope you will all be part of it by talking to your friends and your family and your colleagues and get them out to vote for us on Tuesday.”

It was a small crowd and several said they remain undecided. But one unidentified voter did speak up on Christie's behalf. “I just don't want to see Trump or [Democratic presidential candidate] Hillary [Clinton] get it and Christie seems like a very good next president.”

Both Christie and Rubio have become skilled at connecting with New Hampshire voters. What we don't know now and won't until primary day is which of the candidates have succeeded in capturing not only voter minds, but their hearts.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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