They showed up by the hundreds. They stood in line under the hot sun for hours. They carried paper cut-outs of Donald Trump’s face. They folded into the seats of a high school auditorium here, hard rock music pulsating, and got ready to ask questions of the bombastic billionaire they hope to elect president. This was Trump’s first New Hampshire town hall meeting, and the place was crackling.
A few minutes in, a man in the crowd shouted, “Isn’t Jeb sinking to the bottom of [Lake] Winnipesaukee by now?”
“Ahh,” Trump replied, “these are my people.”
Jeb Bush wasn’t at the bottom of any lake. He was 19 miles down the road from Derry, firing some shots of his own at Trump as he turned in an otherwise workmanlike performance before a sedate crowd of about 150 who gathered at the local VFW post in Merrimack.
In this first-in-the-nation primary state tailor-made for a center-right, business-friendly, establishment-approved candidate, Bush is caught uncomfortably between the rising forces on his right and left. He has been unable to assert himself as the alpha candidate that many Republicans expected he would be.
The dynamic here reflects the extent of the broader tumult that has gripped the Republican race nationally, with 17 candidates vying for overlapping factions of the party. At the moment, the campaign is dominated by Trump and other political neophytes drawing enthusiastic crowds and preaching an anti-establishment message, although party strategists anticipate attention will shift to more traditional candidates eventually.
But for now, at least, Bush faces a squeeze. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is moving swiftly to take advantage of the former Florida governor’s difficulties and make inroads with the kind of mainstream voters who otherwise would migrate to Bush.
Other candidates are trying to creep up as well. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, fighting to gain traction here, parried questions at a tavern outside of Manchester. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did the same over in Barrington, while Carly Fiorina — the former Hewlett-Packard executive also rising in the polls — convened a give-and-take with voters in Laconia.
Trump has swooped in to galvanize many on the right here and nationally with his candid tough talk against political correctness and illegal immigration. Trump led the field in New Hampshire with 18 percent, followed by Bush at 13 percent and Kasich right behind at 12 percent, according to a recent Boston Herald/Franklin Pierce University poll of likely GOP primary voters.
SOURCE: Philip Rucker and Jose A. DelReal
The Washington Post