Campaigns turn to New Hampshire with Cruz ascendant

Author: The Associated Press Producer: SAKINA BOWSER
Published: Updated:

NEWBURY, N.H. (AP) – Next up: New Hampshire.

Presidential contenders on Tuesday turned their airplanes and their hopes to the next arena in the fight for the nomination, a state that will test Ted Cruz’s broad appeal and give Hillary Clinton yet another chance to revive a battered campaign in the Granite State.

Clinton and rival Bernie Sanders fought to a virtual dead heat in Monday’s Iowa caucuses, an outcome that suggested the Democratic contest was headed toward a protracted wrestling match between its progressive and pragmatic wings.

On the Republican side, Cruz’s win provided a twist worthy of the topsy-turvy race. Winning 27.7 percent support, the Texas senator proved to be beloved by evangelicals, even if much-maligned by many others in his party, and adept at mounting a powerful grassroots operation. Donald Trump’s second-place finish at 24.3 percent was a humbling blow to the boastful mogul who had dominated the polls for weeks. Coming in at a close third with 23.1 percent, Marco Rubio was catapulted to the top of heap of establishment candidates vying to be the party’s preferred alternative to Trump or Cruz.

With just one precinct outstanding, Clinton led Sanders by less than three-tenths of 1 percent. The Iowa Democratic Party declared the contest “the closest in Iowa Democratic caucus history.” Landing in the early-morning dark in New Hampshire, Sanders did not concede the race to Clinton, his spokesman Michael Briggs saying Tuesday that they are “still assessing” whether to ask Iowa’s Democratic Party for a recount.

The virtual tie was still good news for Sanders, whose upstart campaign tapped into youthful enthusiasm and the party’s Clinton-fatigue to hinder the former secretary of state’s coast to the nomination. Sanders said the razor-thin results were a “giant step” toward overcoming doubt about his campaign’s long-term viability.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” he told reporters abroad his flight to New Hampshire early Tuesday. The senator didn’t waste any time. Upon landing at dawn, he immediately addressed a hardy group of supporters in Bow, New Hampshire who anxiously awaited his arrival.

The Vermont senator arrived in his neighboring state that has appeared to be friendlier territory than Iowa. New Hampshire has been receptive to Sander’s anti-establishment, anti-Wall Street message.

But the Clintons have made New Hampshire comebacks the stuff of political lore. After coming in third in Iowa eight years ago, Clinton fought back to a first-place finish in New Hampshire. When her husband won second place in 1992, Bill Clinton dubbed himself the comeback kid.

“It is rare we have the opportunity we do now to have a real contest of ideas,” Clinton said Monday night. “I am a progressive who gets things done for people.”

For Republicans, the pivot to New Hampshire meant the still-crowded cast of the candidates turned toward a less religious, more moderate and mostly undecided electorate.

New Hampshire has historically favored more moderate candidates than Iowa, and more than 40 percent of the state’s electorate are not registered in any political party, giving them the power to choose which parties’ primary to vote in on Feb. 9. A recent CNN/WMUR poll conducted by the UNH Survey Center shows about 60 percent of GOP voters have yet to make up their minds.

That may be good news for Cruz, who is hoping to avoid the conservatives’ Iowa curse. Unlike past conservatives who found love in Iowa but fizzled fast, Cruz argued Tuesday that his campaign has staying power, resources and national appeal. He suggested he had his eyes fixed on New Hampshire but also race in South Carolina, 11 days later.

“This is the power of the conservative grassroots and there is a silent majority in this country,” Cruz told CNN. “This is center right country. This is a country built on Judeo-Christian values. And the heart of my campaign is based on common-sense principles.”

Rubio, too, was looking ahead. His campaign announced the endorsement of South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only African American Republican in the Senate.

“His impact is not just going to be in South Carolina but around the country,” Rubio said during a live interview early Tuesday in New Hampshire.

Rubio’s campaign cast the race as a three-person contest – an attempt box out the other contenders vying for mainstream Republicans.

That won’t be easy. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are storming into New Hampshire with packed campaign schedules. Christie will attend five events on Tuesday alone, while Bush is holding four and Kasich has planned three town hall meetings. Rubio, who hasn’t spent as much time here as the other three, is hosting only an evening rally in Exeter.

And then there is Trump, who despite the second-place landing remains an unpredictable force. He may be the candidate most in need of a comeback after Iowa – to show his unorthodox bid could deliver more than strong poll numbers.

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