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Politics

Rubio and Kasich look out on 400-member New Hampshire Legislature and see limited government

Consider it a warm-up act one year early.

Twelve months to the day that the next president will deliver an inaugural address from the steps of the U.S. Capitol, three Republican hopefuls were addressing lawmakers at the New Hampshire State House in Concord on Wednesday.

The exercise brought some presidential gravitas to candidates who’ve otherwise been focused on traditional retail stops in the Granite State, as they spoke from the rostrum of historic Representatives Hall to an audience of nearly 400 members of the state’s unusually large legislature.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio noted that each representative serves “literally just a few thousand people” -- there are 400 in a state with just over 1.3 million people.

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“There’s perhaps no better example of what our founders intended our democracy to look like than right here in this chamber,” he said.

Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who spoke earlier, both used their 15-minute addresses to extol the value of limited government in a state that prides itself on its independence.

“I believe in running our country from the bottom up,” Kasich said, promising to return to the chamber as president so he could stay attuned to local concerns.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, though, opted to use his afternoon address to discuss a major issue affecting the state, the epidemic of heroin and opioid addiction.

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“There’s lots of different things I could talk to you about today,” he said. “But nothing’s more important than saving the lives of our young people. And the older ones, too.”

Christie discussed the steps he took in New Jersey to address the issue and claimed that 2015 was the first year in which drug overdose deaths declined in the state.

“We are changing the course of history in our state on this issue,” he said. “When I get to the White House, no one will have to tell me how to deal with this issue, or, quite frankly, the other issues that will come before me as an executive.”

It had long been a tradition for presidential candidates to speak at the State House ahead of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. But 2016 marked the first time in three presidential election cycles in which any were able to do so. In 2008 and 2012, the date of the primary fell before the Legislature convened for the year.

Former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore addressed the Legislature last month. Both are at the back of the pack in a state where Donald Trump has a commanding lead, and the race appears, for the moment at least, to be about who can emerge as the leading establishment alternative to the billionaire real estate mogul. Kasich and Christie, and to a lesser extent Rubio, are counting on a strong showing here to stay in the race.

Addressing the scores of New Hampshire lawmakers is part of the spadework typically required by candidates who hope to succeed here. And it offered an influential audience a glimpse at what the leading candidates might look like delivering an inaugural or State of the Union address.

Rubio warned about the risk to states if the federal government were allowed to continue to grow, noting the seventh anniversary of President Obama’s first inauguration.

“His intentions may have been good, but the impact of his presidency hasn’t been. And part of the reason is that Washington is too far from the people it serves,” he said.

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Kasich, in a more informal, less-scripted address than Rubio’s, made a more pragmatic pitch. He recalled a lesson he said he learned early in his career in public service: “It’s better to get along than fight.”

“What’s the point of service if you don’t achieve anything?” he asked.

Christie, who just delivered his State of the State address a week ago, told the Los Angeles Times after his remarks that this was the first time he had addressed a legislature other than New Jersey’s.

“It’s good practice for the big one,” one of his local supporters quickly noted.

“That’s a big room,” Christie said in agreement. “I like that big room.”

For more campaign coverage, follow @mikememoli


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