Governor-Candidates Battle for Relevance in Do-or-Die New Hampshire

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidates former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in Carroll, Iowa, Jan. 29, 2016, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in Iowa City, Jan. 30, 2016 and Ohio Gov. John Kasich in Keene, N.H., Jan. 30, 2016.PlayAP Photo
WATCH Republican Candidates Battle After Iowa Caucus

After disappointing finishes in the Iowa Republican caucuses Monday, the three remaining current and former governors in the presidential race have less than a week to win over voters in New Hampshire, a state on which all have pinned their campaigns.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are criss-crossing the Granite State as they poll near each other and aim to finish atop the candidates perceived as representing the Republican establishment -- Sen. Marco Rubio joins them in that category — if not better than Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, who finished first and second in Iowa, respectively.

Here’s a glimpse at their do-or-die race to the finish:

John Kasich

Kasich became the first of the gubernatorial crew to leave Iowa after a debate there last week when he returned to the trail in New Hampshire Saturday. Other candidates continued to vie for votes in Iowa before the caucuses.

On the trail, the Ohio governor has embraced his increasingly popular label as a “happy warrior,” speaking often of uniting the country, working with Democrats and strengthening communities. It’s an image that contradicts the sometimes-prickly reputation he gained over the years in Congress and Ohio politics.

With endorsements from eight New Hampshire newspapers, The New York Times and The Boston Globe, Kasich, 63, exudes confidence at his town hall meetings; he held his 95th in New Hampshire Wednesday, according to his campaign. He drops jokes, brags about how much time he has spent in the state and even impersonates his friend Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"If I get smoked in New Hampshire, I’m going home,” Kasich told town hall meeting attendees in Claremont Tuesday. "If I do well in New Hampshire, I’m going forward. So it’s all up to you, OK? I’d like to have your vote.”

Jeb Bush

Bush has, perhaps, the most to lose, and gain, here in the Granite State. Once the presumptive nominee with the staggering war chest, Bush now desperately needs this state to prove to his long list of donors that he deserves to remain in the race.

Unlike the other two governors, he has more viability outside of New Hampshire: He has a well-organized operation in South Carolina and is counting on Nevada to help bolster his cause. The former Florida governor, 62, relies heavily on his record and regularly goes after front-runner Donald Trump, calling him a “loser” for his disparagement of Sen. John McCain, Latinos, women and the disabled.

Though he bested Kasich and Christie in the Iowa caucuses, he amassed less than 3 percent of the vote, a dismal finish for a candidate whose super PAC spent over $2,800 per vote in the state.

During Bush's town hall in Hanover Wednesday, he had a moment that could very well become emblematic of his ailing campaign.

He spoke of the need for a quiet steadiness in a president, not the bombast that has infiltrated the race.

"Here’s my pledge to you, I will be a commander in chief who will have the back of the military. I won’t be out there blowharding, talking a big game without backing it up. I think the next president needs to be a lot quieter but send a signal that we’re prepared to act in the national security interests of this country.”

As silence then permeated the air, Bush said, disheartened:

“Please clap.”

The crowd laughed and happily obliged.

Chris Christie

The straight-talking governor of New Jersey, who has built his campaign on a strategy of winning over New Hampshire voters through extended town hall meetings and personal interactions, returned to the Granite State Monday afternoon before the caucuses got underway, declaring Iowa in the “rearview mirror” and basking in his return to the state that is responsible for giving his candidacy a second look after a slow start.

Christie, 53, long said it was his goal to be the governor who placed the best in Iowa and New Hampshire. But following a last-place finish among the governors in the caucuses, Christie has all but ignored the other governors in the race and has instead placed his focus on pummeling Rubio, who came in third in Iowa.

Calling Rubio “the boy in the bubble” and the master of the “drive-by town hall,” Christie has been relentless in his attacks on the Florida senator who poses an equal threat to all three governors as the leading candidate in the “establishment” lane.

Over the course of his campaign, Christie has focused heavily on racking up endorsements of current and former elected officials in the Granite State. And on Wednesday, he celebrated that he had won over the coveted endorsement of New Hampshire Speaker of the House Shawn Spicer.

Christie also proudly touts his endorsements from two of the region’s leading conservative newspapers, The New Hampshire Union-Leader and the Boston Herald.