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On The Political Front: No Clear Republican Frontrunner After FITN Summit

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

On The Political Front is our weekly conversation with NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers. This week, a look back to the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit held in Nashua over the weekend.

So Josh, a big weekend for Republicans and Hillary Clinton arrives in New Hampshire this afternoon. 2016 is upon is.

Like it or not, that’s the truth. And things could not be more different for Republicans and Democrats. Democrats have Clinton, who everybody expects will be the nominee, and Republicans have three declared candidates, several others who are all but declared and God knows how many more to come. All, or nearly all were in Nashua for a presidential summit organized by the New Hampshire GOP. The big takeaway from that gathering is that there is no dominant Republican candidate right now, and few expect one to emerge anytime soon if at all. Republicans of long memory I talked to in Nashua struggled to name a primary as wide open as this. Maybe 1976, they say.

So were there any standouts at the leadership summit?

It depends on what you mean. Nobody did so well that it reshuffled things much and none of the leading candidates really blew it. Rand Paul gave a good speech that went over well, and that did a good job of both going after President Obama and Hillary Clinton and also of articulating his rationale for getting into the race. Paul also chided his own party for not reaching out to all voters, rich and poor, white and nonwhite, and for not, as he put it “defending the entire Bill of Rights.”  

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR
Jeb Bush at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit

  That isn’t new, but it drew real cheers. On the level of pure performance, Ted Cruz really held the room when he spoke. Scott Walker did fine, and so did Jeb Bush. How much any single event of the sort means is hard to know. And the crowd response is also affected by when a speaker speaks; get a slot when people are having lunch or dinner  and the crowd is going to be – or at least seem - less animated. I guess I see these events kind of like a debate, where the first job of a candidate is to do oneself no harm. After that, it's do something memorable, and that leaves voters wanting more.

But while the focus was what was going on in the ballrooms, the speeches, there was lots of more less public politicking going on also?

True. Candidates were also using the event to meet privately with activists. And with so many candidates  -- or possible candidates - in the mix, there is some urgency in this outreach. A lot of Republicans I talked to at the event though are in no hurry to commit to a candidate. The primary, is after all 10 months away, and without a clear favorite, like say Mitt Romney was four years ago, the imperative to get onboard early or be left behind is really minimal to the point of being almost nonexistent. As one person observed, if you commit to anyone before Labor Day you won’t get invited to all the events held by other candidates all summer long.

OK, hard to know where things are going, but were there thematic similarities in the umpteen speeches you heard.

Beyond the contempt for the president and for Hillary Clinton, I guess one thing that was clear is that foreign policy – at least right now – is a dominant concern. 

Credit NHPR Staff
Hillary Clinton

  It certainly wasn’t four years ago. With ISIS and Iran among other problems, voters are paying more attention to issues overseas. And of course with Hillary Clinton having been Secretary of State, it is also the most obvious way to link her campaign to the president and to lay problems at her feet.

Speaking of Hillary Clinton, today will be her first political visit to the state since she campaigned with Jeanne Shaheen in the run-up to the midterms. What will Clinton be doing?

Well, she’s got two scheduled stops. One in Keene this afternoon, where she’ll visit Whitney Brothers in Keene, a children’s furniture store. She’ll meet with employees and talk about small business issues. Tomorrow she’ll be at the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord. Community colleges will be her focus there. I will be interested to see how things go. I won’t be alone.

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