NASHUA, N.H. (AP) — Donald Trump, under pressure to score his first electoral win, set his hopes on New Hampshire Tuesday as voters began flooding polling stations across the state in the nation’s first primary. His rivals placed high hopes in a strong second-place finish, looking to break out from the pack and ensure the survival of their campaigns.
Stung from a second-place finish in Iowa last week, Trump is hoping to translate his commanding lead in the polls into a decisive win to prove his unorthodox campaign can translate large crowds at raucous rallies into votes.
“I feel good. We had a great night and it was an amazing event in a snow storm, in a blizzard, so, I feel very good,” Trump said Tuesday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, sounding confident in his chances after drawing thousands to a get-out-the-vote rally in Manchester on Monday night.
For the rest of the Republican field, Tuesday’s results will shed light on which of the more establishment-friendly candidates could advance to later contests, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio’s John Kasich and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. Rubio had arrived to New Hampshire with a burst of momentum following his better-than-expected third place finish in Iowa last week, but a shaky debate performance Saturday sparked criticism from his rivals that the 44-year old freshman senator lacks the experience needed to lead the nation.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, coming off a strong victory in Iowa, has not polled as well in New Hampshire — his rivals seeing that as an opportunity to try to cap his momentum in the second nomination contest. Trump and Cruz have clashed throughout the campaign over a range of issues, with Trump calling his opponent “nasty” on MSNBC Tuesday morning.
Campaigning at Manchester’s Red Arrow Diner Tuesday, Cruz attacked Trump for using vulgar language in campaign rallies, accusing him of distracting from his shortfalls.
“Part of the reason that Donald engages in insults is because he can’t discuss the substance. He can’t defend his record,” Cruz told voters. “So instead, his approach is to engage in a profane insult. I’m not going to respond in kind.”
Even as state polls showed Trump — and Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders — holding a significant lead in the days leading up to the primary, candidates were wary to make any early predictions since New Hampshire voters are notoriously late breakers, and many were still deliberating over the choices as they walked into polling stations Tuesday.
“I just haven’t made up my mind,” said Bob Schmitt, 71, an independent voter from Windham, who remained torn on Monday between Trump and Kasich.
“It’s a tough field,” he added. “I don’t know how I’m going to decide.”
But the stakes are high. Bush, Kasich and Christie in particular have bet their White House aspirations on New Hampshire, hoping a strong showing here will lead to an influx of new donor money and attention as the election moves south.
The candidates were out in force on Tuesday, making their last-minute pitch to voters at diners and polling sites.
“We feel great,” Rubio told reporters, after greeting voters and supporters at Gilbert Hood Middle School in Derry, N.H. “We’ve got a lot of energy, a lot of support, a lot of strong people coming on board.”
Christie, who has dedicated a significant amount of time to New Hampshire, touted his commitment to the state on the final day of campaigning.
“This is my 72nd day in the state, I think I’ve done enough to do well here,” said Christie at a local elementary school, where he was greeted by dozens of sign-toting supporters.
Kasich, meanwhile, jumped behind the counter at the famous Red Arrow diner in Manchester to pour coffee and even deliver a plate of food.
“I don’t want to bother you, but I’m going to bother you!” he joked between visits to poll stations.
Trump, meanwhile, spent the early part of his day giving a series of television interviews.
At a get-out-the-vote rally at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester Monday night, Trump told about 5,000 people that they “have to go out and vote no matter what.”
“If you’re sick, if you’re really, like, you can’t move; you’re close to death; your doctor tells you it’s not working; your wife is disgusted with you, she said, ‘I’m leaving.’ No matter what. She says, ‘Darling, I love you but I’ve fallen in love with another man,'” he told the enthusiastic crowd. “I don’t give a damn. You’ve got to get out to vote.”
Polls in New Hampshire opened as early as midnight in a few tiny towns. All are expected to close by 8 p.m. local time.
Associated Press writers Kathleen Ronayne and Holly Ramer contributed to this report from Manchester, New Hampshire.
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