Just three days before the New Hampshire Primary, seven Republicans clashed on the debate stage at St. Anselm’s College, with most of the attacks coming from Chris Christie, as Christie and others zeroed in on Marco Rubio in a bid to slow Rubio’s momentum in the Granite State.
How important was this debate? Pollster Dick Bennett said it was pretty simple:
“Many Republican voters told us today that they will make up their minds after the debate,” Bennett related as he released his tracking poll results during the GOP gathering.
Here’s a quick rundown on how the debate went for each Republican:
Donald Trump – Trump returned to the debate stage after skipping the last debate in Iowa, a move which may have contributed to his second place finish in the Hawkeye State. Trump came armed with a new catch phrase, “We’re going to win with Trump.” Trump had one contentious exchange – not with any of his Republican rivals – but with the debate crowd, which booed repeatedly as Trump sparred with Jeb Bush over eminent domain. Trump even was booed during his closing statement. Really, this wasn’t a bad debate for Trump, as he let others do most of the battling.
Ted Cruz – After tangling repeatedly with Trump earlier in the week after the Iowa Caucus, Cruz opted against a debate stage showdown this time with the real estate magnate, as Cruz was also pushed to publicly apologize to Ben Carson again over some election tactics in Iowa, dealing with whether Carson was going to drop out of the race after Iowa. Overall, Cruz really wasn’t a central figure in this debate, as he probably enjoyed standing off to the side while other Republicans went after Marco Rubio, though Cruz certainly did not seem to do much that was set him apart from others on the debate stage.
Marco Rubio – Rubio’s momentum in New Hampshire encountered a very difficult night, mainly in exchanges between him and Chris Christie, as the New Jersey Governor went after Rubio for lacking the needed executive experience to be President, basically accusing Rubio of being the Republican version of Barack Obama. Rubio’s rejoinders fell flat, as Christie mocked Rubio for simply repeating what seemed to be a canned response, as the Florida Senator was rattled for the first time in any of the Republican debates. But Rubio recovered later in the debate with some applause lines against Hillary Clinton. So, while it may have been Rubio’s worst debate – will it really hurt him in New Hampshire? We’ll see. It was not his best night, that’s for sure.
Jeb Bush – Bush again seemed to excel during detailed debates over foreign policy and once more tangled positively with Donald Trump, an exchange that resulted in widespread booing in the crowd directed at the GOP front runner. Bush did not really throw elbows at Marco Rubio, after it became apparent that Chris Christie would take the lead in trying to slow Rubio. Outside the debate hall, Bush has had growing crowds in recent days at his events, as he again used the debate opportunity to talk about his own experience as a Governor, something echoed by Christie and John Kasich.
Chris Christie – After a somewhat quiet performance last week in Iowa, Christie came out with guns blazing against Marco Rubio, making the argument that his own experience as Governor more than trumps Rubio’s work in the Senate (along with that of Ted Cruz.) While Christie’s lines drew big cheers in the debate hall, those same efforts on the stump in New Hampshire (and on the airwaves with ads) have not created any groundswell for Christie in the polls. Maybe this performance will be something that tips some undecided voters into his column in the coming days.
John Kasich – Kasich once more stuck to his script of the last five debates, emphasizing his record in Congress and as Governor of Ohio, as he argued that he has the needed experience to take charge in the Oval Office. Kasich again refused to get drawn into any back-and-forth with other Republicans, as he has zeroed in on that type of a positive campaign in his town halls and advertisements all over New Hampshire. Some polls indicate the Kasich strategy is working, as he argues voters in the Granite State will step forward to boost his bid for the Republican nomination.
Ben Carson – As in Iowa, Carson made little impact on this debate in New Hampshire. Carson spent his first debate segment on his battle with Ted Cruz over election dirty tricks in Iowa. I didn’t keep a timer going, but it wasn’t hard to figure out from my notes that Carson spoke the least of any of the seven Republicans on the stage. In one tracking poll that was released during the debate, Carson had fallen to 1 percent in New Hampshire.