GOP contenders gather in NH: 5 things to watch for
NASHUA, N.H. (AP) Nearly 20 Republican White House prospects will court presidential primary voters in New Hampshire this weekend at a state GOP meeting in Nashua. It's the first gathering of its kind in the first-in-the-nation primary state this year and offers no shortage of intriguing storylines as Republican contenders across the political spectrum deliver speeches, answer questions and work to stand out in the crowd.
Five things we'll be watching for:
Both Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush plan to address the conference and host separate events with voters this weekend. It's unclear if their paths will cross directly, but their schedules put them on stage within hours of each other, and their individual private events are just miles apart. It'll be their first time on the same stage since Rubio launched a presidential bid earlier in the week, joining a race that will probably include Bush, Rubio's longtime mentor. Those close to Bush suggest he was deeply disappointed by Rubio's decision to run, although both have avoided going after each other so far.
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Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton is not on the program. But the former first lady and secretary of state is bound to be mentioned a lot, unkindly, at the conference, the first major GOP gathering since she announced her decision to run for president. Will the Republican presidential prospects decide to go after just Clinton, each other, or both? Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, will be in New Hampshire as well to make sure Republicans don't get a free pass.
There's a good chance you've not heard of some of the nearly 20 potential presidential contenders expected to speak. With the gathering bringing a glut of attention, the weekend offers a big opportunity for one of the lower-tier candidates to break out of the pack. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker used a strong performance in Iowa earlier in the year to leap into the top tier of likely candidates. Among those with something to prove this time: former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, businesswoman Carly Fiorina and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got a head start on many of his Republican colleagues by heading to New Hampshire a few days early. Once considered a presidential front-runner, Christie is now fighting for relevancy in the 2016 contest. His state faces economic problems and his reputation has been bruised by the infamous George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal as well as questions about his temperament. Still, he drew big crowds earlier in the week when he had the state to himself. This weekend, he will try to convince skeptics that he's still a viable candidate.
The gathering comes as Jeb Bush struggles to convince the modern-day Republican Party that he is a true conservative. While New Hampshire voters tend to prefer moderates, conservative support is critical for candidates in the broader race for the Republican presidential nomination. Bush will continue his quest to win over his party's base on a stage that will feature fiery conservatives such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Will Bush hold his own with the conservative crowd?