Candidates make final appeals as New Hampshire primary nears

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Welcome to Trail Guide, your host through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's Monday, Feb. 8, and here's what we're talking about:

John Kasich, Bernie Sanders win Dixville Notch

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont prevailed in an early test of the New Hampshire primary, with a quaint town's nine voters casting the state's first-in-the-nation ballots at midnight. 

On the Republican side, Kasich outpaced Donald Trump 3 to 2 in Dixville Notch. The four Democratic voters unanimously chose Sanders over Hillary Clinton.

Nearby Millsfield and Hart's Location, in the central part of the state, also hold midnight balloting. 

Dixville Notch has the most storied tradition. 

Since 1960, voters have cast ballots inside a tiny room at the Balsams Resort. The town is located along Route 26 in the northern part of the state and is 10 miles from both the Vermont and Canadian borders. 

Towns with fewer than 100 people are permitted to vote at midnight, according to New Hampshire election laws. 

While many presidential candidates hold rallies and town halls in major cities such as Manchester and Nashua, only Kasich made a campaign appearance in Dixville Notch this cycle. 

Are the results a harbinger? Trump, the national front-runner for the GOP nomination, holds a double-digit New Hampshire lead based on an average of polls. Sanders, who represents Vermont and has deep New England roots, is outpacing Hillary Clinton by double digits in the state.

At last rally before New Hampshire votes, Trump sticks to what made him the front-runner

Anyone who thought Donald Trump would mix up his repertoire during his big rally the night before the New Hampshire primary hasn’t been paying attention to what made him the Republican presidential front-runner here.

Although initially delayed by a snowstorm pelting the state, Trump arrived at Manchester's Verizon Wireless arena to fill what he called “the last lovefest” with New Hampshire voters with the notes he strikes at every event.

He promised to build a wall on the Mexican border. “Who the hell is going to pay for that wall?” he asked, and was drowned out by “Mexico!”

He said the victims of the Parisian terrorist attack would have been saved had France not strictly limited guns.

He accused American negotiators of being “political hacks” when drawing up trade deals he said were injurious to the country.

He said he would save Social Security, the 2nd Amendment, the ability to say “Merry Christmas” and healthcare, though he offered no details as to how.

“We’re going to have so many different options,” he said after vowing to "repeal and replace" Obamacare. “It’s going to be so much better.”

The crowds at Trump rallies are not there for the specifics. Many come because they’re upset by the state of the economy and problems they believe have worsened during President Obama’s tenure.

He reminded the audience that South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a fellow Republican, had used her televised response to Obama’s State of the Union address to criticize Trump’s demeanor in the presidential race and to suggest that less anger and more problem-solving would be preferable.

“We’re not angry people. We don’t want to be angry,” Trump said, then immediately reversed himself. “We’re angry. We’re angry at incompetence.”

Apparently intending to go out on a positive note, Trump minimized the insults he often heaves at opponents, particularly former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

He mildly criticized Bush, reminding the audience of his support for the Common Core educational standards and his remark in 2014 that many immigrants who come to the U.S. illegally do so as an "act of love" for their families.

He raised Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s repetition of an anti-Obama line during Saturday’s debate. And he repeated an audience member’s vulgar assessment of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s opposition to waterboarding, which the U.S. defines as torture. (Trump said Sunday that he would condone the use of waterboarding and “worse than that.”)

Trump’s main mission Monday night was to remind the thousands gathered in the arena to vote, in order to avoid the same gap between pre-election polling and actual results that marred his Iowa showing last week.

He didn’t fixate publicly on his poll numbers, as is his habit, although he did remind the audience of thousands that he had drawn huge crowds during his campaign in South Carolina, Alabama and Texas.

“Tomorrow is going to be the beginning,” he declared. “I hear we have a lead; it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t even know what the hell the lead is ... you have to go out, you have to vote. “

“We have to have a great victory. We have to make America great again; we have to make America greater, greater, greater than it’s ever been before.”

Trump plans to spend Tuesday in New Hampshire, and is scheduled to appear Wednesday in South Carolina, where Republicans will next vote, on Feb. 20.

Facing defeat, Hillary Clinton asks voters to think about the future

Making a final pitch for voters hours before the first ballots will be cast in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton had the future in mind.

"As you leave here tonight," she told a few hundred supporters who braved a snow squall to join her in Hudson, "imagine the kind of future you want for those that you care the most about."

"Nobody, nobody is better at creating the future than Americans. We've been in that future business for a long time. And we've got to enter it once again with confidence and optimism," she said.

That could be a message for her campaign, which appears headed to defeat here Tuesday - the margin of which will go a long way toward determining what happens next in the nomination fight.

She again claimed the progressive mantle, but asked voters to think through what that meant.

"The last thing we need is promises that can’t be met," she said. "We've got to bring our country back together to believe that we are not only capable of moving us forward, but that we can do this together."

Clinton said she would spend primary day Tuesday visiting polling places and reaching out to as many voters as she could.

Her husband, former President Clinton, suggested the crowd not give up.

"It's not too late. You can still go get some more votes tonight," he said, reminding voters here that he was campaigning well into the night before the state's 1992 primary, visiting a bowling alley at 11 p.m.

The former president seemed to struggle with the right tone as he took aim at Bernie Sanders.

"Sometimes when I'm on a stage like this, I wish we weren't married," he said. "Then I could say what I really think."

Rubio super PAC turns guns on Bush

 (Jewel Samad / AFP-Getty Images)

(Jewel Samad / AFP-Getty Images)

As the New Hampshire campaign comes to a close, a super PAC supporting Marco Rubio has switched its ad strategy to try to slap down a possible rally by his Florida rival, Jeb Bush.

Since Friday, Conservative Solutions PAC has pulled more than $1 million in positive ads for Rubio, plus another $360,000 in ads attacking Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, to focus a barrage of ads against Bush – more than $1.6 million in all, campaign filings to the Federal Election Commission show.

Bush favors changing finance law to benefit candidates and weaken super PACs

 (Andrew Burton / Getty Images)

(Andrew Burton / Getty Images)

Jeb Bush has had more super PAC money spent on his behalf than any of the 2016 presidential candidates. But that doesn’t mean he likes it.

On Monday, the former Florida governor called for overturning Citizens United, the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened the spigot on campaign spending and ushered in the era of richly funded political action committees accountable to no one but their benefactors.

It’s not that Bush wants to stem the gusher of campaign cash. Rather, the GOP hopeful would change the law so that candidates could receive unlimited sums directly instead of having the money go to political committees that work for or against candidates and causes.

“This is a ridiculous system we have now where you have campaigns that struggle to raise money directly, and they can’t be held accountable for the super PAC that's their affiliate,” Bush said in a CNN interview.

A pro-Bush super PAC, Right to Rise, last year raised nearly $118 million on Bush’s behalf. Much of it came in sizable chunks from individual donors.

Candidates, by contrast, can accept no more than $2,700 from an individual during the primary season, making it much harder to raise the grand sums lavished on some super PACs. Candidates are not allowed to directly coordinate with a super PAC.

To overturn the court decision, Bush said he would seek a constitutional convention that would also take up proposals to impose term limits on members of Congress, give the president line-item veto authority on spending bills and require a balanced federal budget.

'This is kind of our final lovefest'

There are some things you can't negotiate -- like weather

A snowstorm struck New Hampshire on Monday, snarling traffic on the last full campaign day before Tuesday's primary. Also a casualty, temporarily, was Donald Trump's arrival at the downtown Manchester Verizon arena, where thousands were awaiting his arrival.

They're being entertained not by the reality television celebrity but by his loop of campaign songs, heavy on tunes by Elton John, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.

In Iowa, I just came back from campaigning four-square against the ethanol mandate. And doing that is something that was widely considered political suicide in the state of Iowa. That’s almost like coming to New Hampshire and campaigning against the New England Patriots which, to be clear, I’m not doing. I’m not that crazy.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, winner of the Iowa Republican caucuses, campaigning in Manchester, N.H.

Ted Cruz goes with tried-and-true closer: I heart New Hampshire

Ted Cruz is exceedingly unlikely to win Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

His undiluted ideology and appeal to the Christian conservative wing of the GOP are a poor fit for a state that tends to be more centrist and secular in its political leanings.

Still, the Texas senator and winner of the Iowa caucuses is competing in the Granite State and, with several more moderate candidates vying for the same vote, could finish strong enough to enjoy a modest boost as the campaign heads to friendlier South Carolina.

Given expectations, he certainly has little to lose.

In one of his last campaign stops Monday, the senator turned to a can't-miss appeal, extolling the wisdom of New Hampshire voters and the virtue of the state's first-in-the-nation primary, which many here hold sacred.

"It is a wonderful thing in our country. One of the things I have grown to really love is the special role New Hampshire has," Cruz told several hundred supporters and late candidate-shoppers at a VFW hall in Manchester. "If we started in a big state, if we started in California or New York or Texas, presidential elections would be decided entirely by slick Hollywood TV ads.

"What is fabulous about New Hampshire, what is fabulous about Iowa, both states take very, very seriously the responsibility to vet a candidate," Cruz said.

His pitch wasn't all rhapsody.

He reiterated his assertion that other candidates are what he called "campaign conservatives," who pander to the GOP base by telling those voters what they want to hear, only to abandon conservative principles once they are elected and move to Washington.

At one point he took aim at Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who supported a bill providing a pathway to citizenship for people in the country illegally -- "amnesty" to its critics -- as part of a comprehensive immigration bill that also called for tough border enforcement. Rubio subsequently backed away from the legislation because, he now explains, it lacked broad political support.

"Ignore our campaign rhetoric, because a lot of people know how to give a good talk on the campaign trail," Cruz said. "Instead, we should follow the biblical test, 'You shall know them by their fruits.'"

"Don't listen to all these politicians who, when they're on the campaign trail say, 'Gosh diddly, I'm opposed to amnesty.' Well, isn't that special," he went on, his voice thick with sarcasm. "The question should rather be where were you in 2013" when Rubio co-sponsored his bipartisan bill.

"Did you stand for rule of law," Cruz said, "or did you stand for securing the borders and keeping this country safe?"

Rubio has responded to the attacks by insisting that Cruz at one point was also in favor of "amnesty" for immigrants, but changed his position.

'The whole country's going to hell,' Donald Trump tells New Hampshire on eve of primary

Donald Trump told New Hampshire voters Monday that “the whole country’s going to hell” as he sought to tap their anger at illegal immigration, a tough economic environment and the threat of terrorist attacks.

In three town hall meetings on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, Trump stuck closely to the campaign themes that have made him the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

“I hope you're angry enough to go out and vote tomorrow, folks,” he told a couple hundred voters here at a Lions Club town hall that followed gatherings at the nearby Rotary Club and Elks Lodge.

The pugnacious Manhattan billionaire cast himself as the only candidate free from influence by big-money campaign donors whose interests collide with the public's.

“The people I'm running against are all getting money from the drug companies,” Trump told the crowd as a snow storm raged outside.

Trump, who planned to finish his day with a rally in a Manchester sports arena that seats nearly 12,000 people, made scalding remarks about rival Jeb Bush at every stop. It appeared to signal Trump’s concern that the well-funded son and brother of former presidents could pose a threat if he performs unexpectedly well in New Hampshire after months of lackluster poll ratings.

“If he wins, that would be a big embarrassment to the Republican Party,” Trump told a Manchester Rotary Club lunch.

He ridiculed Bush’s statement in 2014 that many immigrants came to the United States illegally in an “act of love.”

“Give me a break,” he said.

Trump also said there was a town in California “where the illegals want to take over the City Council.” He did not specify which one, but it was an apparent reference to Huntington Park, where two immigrants in the country illegally were appointed to city commissions in August.

“The whole country's going to hell,” Trump said.

The suddenly shy Bernie Sanders

On the day Bernie Sanders' supporters may be more energized than ever, with their candidate enjoying a comfortable lead in the frenzied final hours of campaigning in New Hampshire, Sanders is taking care to have a particularly boring day on the trail.

No impromptu gaggles with reporters. No unscripted remarks on the stage. And certainly no mention of the name “Clinton.”

The arrows are coming at Sanders from Bill Clinton, from Hillary Clinton and from Clinton campaign surrogates sharp and fast. Sanders' strategy is clear: just duck them. His campaign sees no benefit at this point in shooting back and risking a misfire that damages his lead.

So the most liberal major candidate in the presidential race ran Monday what might be described, strategy-wise, as the most conservative campaign, sticking to his standard stump speech and sidestepping any potential interaction with a pack of reporters eager to get him to talk about Bill Clinton.

Sanders and Bush are top TV advertisers in New Hampshire

 (Steven Senne / Associated Press)

(Steven Senne / Associated Press)

According to a count by the Boston Globe, the candidates have aired more than 18,000 ads in the Boston media market, which covers New Hampshire, including 2,607 from Feb. 1 through Monday morning.

Jeb Bush and Bernie Sanders have been the largest advertisers by a wide margin, both airing more than 4,000 spots – more than 38 hours of advertising each – since December. In Bush’s case, many of the spots were paid for by his super PAC.

Sanders, who prides himself on not airing negative ads, has been largely true to his pledge, the Globe found in analyzing the spots. Only one of the 22 individual ads Sanders has aired has been partially negative.

But Sanders has also not been the target of a single negative ad in the New Hampshire campaign -- making him unique, the paper found.

By contrast, Clinton has been the target of more negative ads than anyone other than Donald Trump. Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas have each aired multiple ads attacking her.

Rubio and Christie, with their super PAC allies, were the next two largest advertisers on the GOP side after Bush.

Clinton and her allies aired only about two-thirds of the number of ads that Sanders has put on TV.

Trump, who has benefited enormously from his celebrity and easy access to television, has aired a significantly smaller number of ads, just over 1,100.

Gay voter asks Marco Rubio: 'Why do you want to put me back in the closet?'

Marco Rubio greets diners in Manchester, N.H. (Jewel Samad / AFP-Getty Images)

Marco Rubio greets diners in Manchester, N.H. (Jewel Samad / AFP-Getty Images)

Marco Rubio is among the few Republican presidential candidates who has said he would attend a gay wedding.

But that does not mean he supports gay marriage.

When a gay voter asked the senator about it during a campaign stop at a Manchester restaurant, a testy exchange ensued.

“So, Marco, being a gay man, why do you want to put me back in the closet?” asked Timothy Kierstead, a New Hampshire resident dining at the Puritan Backroom.

“I don’t. You can live any way you want," Rubio replied as he was making his way through the lunchtime crowd. "I just believe marriage is between one man and one woman."

Kierstead said he had been married for a “long time,” and told Rubio, “You want to say we don’t matter.”

"No," Rubio responded. "I just believe marriage is between one man and one woman."

"But that’s your belief,” Kierstead shot back.

“I think that’s what the law should be. And if you disagree, you should have the law changed by a legislature,” Rubio said.

The man reminded Rubio that gay marriage is legal nationwide thanks to last year's Supreme Court ruling.

Rubio told him, “I respect your view,” and moved on.

“Typical politician,” said Kierstead, who seemed displeased that the senator walked away from the conversation.

Asked which candidate he supports for president, Kierstead said it was “sure not going to be a Republican because they want to put us back in the closet.”

Accompanied by his youngest son, Dominick, who sampled the restaurant's "world-famous" chicken tenders, the candidate chatted and took selfies with diners.

The campaign event didn't begin much better. As he stepped off the bus, Rubio was met by staff from the Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, who were dressed as robots to mock his Saturday debate performance. 

"Marco Roboto” was written on one of the cardboard robot suits. At the debate, Rubio came under fire for repeating the same talking point several times, almost word for word.

Remember when? Clinton on sexism on eve of 2008 New Hampshire primary

Eight years ago, the day before voters in New Hampshire handed her a come-from-behind victory, Hillary Clinton had an emotional moment on the campaign trail. 

As I was reliving her comments — and the media frenzy they sparked — I couldn't help but think about something that happened later that night. 

It got less attention at the time, but speaks to a conversation still happening today about feminism and sexism as Clinton battles it out in the Granite State once more, this time against Sen. Bernie Sanders.

At a town hall event in Salem, N.H., on primary eve, two radio station pranksters shouted at Clinton, "Iron my shirt!"

I was there, and shot this video.

"Oh, the remnants of sexism alive and well," Clinton said, to sustained cheers from the packed auditorium. 

"As I think has just been abundantly demonstrated, I am also running to break through the highest and hardest glass ceiling," she added.

Following up on David Lauter's detailed post on polling in New Hampshire, and as I wrote in our newsletter today, then-Sen. Barack Obama led Clinton in seven polls leading up to the actual vote in New Hampshire, by an average of 8.3 points. 

She prevailed by 2.6 points on election day.

Bloomberg keeps testing the water

Clinton denies staff shake-up rumors

Hillary Clinton was adamant Monday that she had no plans to shake up her staff despite her campaign’s weaker-than-expected performance so far in the election.

She was responding to an anonymously sourced report in Politico on Monday that said a frustrated Clinton was pondering big changes. The report comes as polls have Clinton far behind Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire a day before the election.

“I have no idea what they are talking about or who they are talking to,” Clinton told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “We’re going to take stock, but it’s going to be the campaign that I’ve got. I’m very confident in the people that I have.”

Two words that drive youth vote toward Sanders

Bernie Sanders crushed it with the youth vote in Iowa, and polls suggest he is poised to do the same in New Hampshire.

One of the big reasons can be explained in two words: free college. At a rally at Daniel Webster College in Nashua, N.H., on Monday morning, students planning to vote for Sanders brought it up in interviews again and again. Sanders' vow to provide a free public college education to every qualified American is a big draw in these days of suffocating debt. Hillary Clinton’s proposal to substantially ease the burden of paying for college for those who can not afford it is not sparking the same enthusiasm.

“I’m pretty young and I’m not really into politics,” said Aaron LaCourse, 18. “But my mom wants me to vote for him and I know he wants to make school education free.” His buddy Evan Noel, 19, said much the same.

Justine Kaveya, who was standing nearby, said the free college plan is what will get her to the polls Tuesday. “It is a big, big thing,” the 22-year-old student said.

As he has for weeks, Sanders invited the audience at his rallies on Monday to call out how much student debt they are trying to get out from under. At the Palace Theater in Manchester, one graduate of Columbia University shouted out $200,000.

“Stop and think about that,” Sanders said. “Don’t think of that as normal.... It is not.”

Clintons make last-minute push to close gap in New Hampshire

Hoping to pull off another political upset in New Hampshire, Team Clinton launched a full-court press Monday in New Hampshire's largest city.

First there were New Hampshire's governor and its senior senator onstage together touting Hillary Clinton's readiness to serve as president on Day One.

"I think this is going to be a national security election in November," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said, emblematic of stepped-up efforts by the campaign to cast doubt on Sen. Bernie Sanders' foreign policy chops.

Then came Bill and Chelsea Clinton, with the former president again taking umbrage at how Sanders' campaign has tarred them with the "establishment" label.

"The hotter this election gets, the more I wish I were just a former president and just for a few months, not the spouse of the next one. Because, you know, I have to be careful about what I say," he said.

"It bothers me to be in an election where debate is impossible because if you disagree, you’re just part of the establishment," he continued.

And finally Hillary Clinton took the stage, speaking directly to the state's famously late-deciding voters.

"For all of those of you who are still deciding, still shopping, I hope I can close the deal between now and the time the polls close," she said.

Clinton's message, which has evolved over the course of her campaigning here in the last week, today again seemed to be responding to Sanders' consistent one.

Even as she was forced to defend her history of campaign contributions from Wall Street, she challenged Sanders, though not by name, on his past opposition to gun control legislation.

"There's a lot of talk about lobbies in this campaign. The most powerful lobby by far is the gun lobby," she said. "We can’t let any lobby, we can’t let any unelected force for money, for guns, for drugs, for big oil, for insurance, you name it, they cannot control our government any longer."

She traced the anger and insecurity of the nation back to "bad choices for America" made during the Bush administration. She recalled her visit to Flint, Mich., Sunday and called the water crisis there "heartbreaking," but said it "also has got to be motivating."

"I believe with all my heart that we are well-positioned, if we have the right leadership, to seize the future just like we have in the past," she said. "It won't happen by wishing for it, it will happen by working for it."

Clinton refutes charges of Wall Street influence

 (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

In a sea of Hillary Clinton supporters at a rally Monday in Manchester, there was one conspicuous critic.

That became clear as the former secretary of State sought to turn from defense to offense over Sen. Bernie Sanders on the issue of the influence of moneyed interests in politics.

"I have been speaking out against and working to rein in powerful forces for many years. I have the scars to prove that," she said.

But one person in the audience shouted out that she had also taken their money. Clinton didn't dispute that but argued it had no influence on her policy decisions - nor President Obama's, whom she noted also benefited from millions in donations from financial sector.

"I haven't just talked. I haven’t just given speeches. I've introduced legislation, I’ve called them out," she said, adding that Republican strategist Karl Rove was funneling millions of dollars in Wall Street donations toward effort to beat her. "They know where I stand because I've always stood there.

"I have donations. There's no doubt about that," she said. "President Obama had a lot of donations. Did that stop him from signing Dodd-Frank, the toughest regulations against the financial sector since the 1930s?"

Clinton also referred to a report that Sanders benefited, albeit indirectly, from Wall Street money that came to him via the Senate Democrats' campaign committee. "You know, there was nothing wrong with that. That hasn’t changed his view. Well, it didn’t change my view or my vote either," she said.

By the numbers

How does Clinton or Trump get to 270 electoral votes? Play with our map.

Third debate scorecard: Here's who's winning each round

All things Clinton | All things Trump

Who's endorsing who? Find out which celebrities support each candidate.

Find out which Republicans support Donald Trump

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