--CHRISTIE COMPARES RUBIO TO OBAMA: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says Marco Rubio doesn't have the experience to be president, and that he won’t drop out of the race even if the Florida senator beats him in New Hampshire, ABC’s VERONICA STRACQUALURSI notes. "He just doesn't have any experience. All he has is experience of being a legislator," Christie said on "Good Morning America" today. “We've tried that as a party and as a country and it doesn't work." Christie's argument centers around Rubio’s age – 44 – and his belief that Rubio is not a strong enough candidate to take on Hillary Clinton in the general election if she wins the Democratic nomination. "We need to make sure we nominate someone who not only can beat Hillary Clinton but also can manage the government and get it back on the right track once they're elected president of the United States," Christie, 53, argued. "No need to take those chances on someone who's never managed anything larger than a 30-person Senate staff." http://abcn.ws/1P8F9DZ
--LOOKING AHEAD: Christie said that even if he doesn't beat Rubio Tuesday, it's not the end of his campaign. "No,” he said, “it's not a concession to that at all.” http://abcn.ws/1P8F9DZ
--BY THE NUMBERS IN NEW HAMPSHIRE: In a UMass Lowell tracking poll released today, which takes a rolling average of poll results over a three-day period, Marco Rubio is showing significant movement in New Hampshire, ABC’s VERONICA STRACQUALURSI notes. Rubio has moved from 10 percent to 15 percent among GOP voters, placing him in a tie for second with Ted Cruz. Donald Trump is still holding on to his lead over the Republican field, polling at 36 percent. The trio of governors -- Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie -- poll at 8, 7 and 5 percent respectively. Ben Carson, who was once on par with Trump even leading him in a few polls, now is towards the end of the pack with 4 percent, and Carly Fiorina is in last with 3 percent. On the Democrats side, Hillary Clinton still trails Bernie Sanders by 22 points, 36 to 58 percent, but she’s closing the gap between her and the Vermont senator.
--GOVERNOR-CANDIDATES BATTLE FOR RELEVANCE: 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, courtesy of ABC’s BEN GITTLESON, CANDACE SMITH and JORDYN PHELPS: http://abcn.ws/20IyhlZ
--ANALYSIS -- ABC’s RICK KLEIN: Marco Rubio picked up the endorsement of an exiting candidate. Donald Trump accused Ted Cruz of winning dirty. Ben Carson emerged to say, roughly, the same. And yet Cruz is arguably the beneficiary of the biggest political development since the Iowa caucuses he just won. The end of Rand Paul’s campaign actually puts votes up for grabs, in a way complaining about campaign tactics most likely doesn’t. Liberty voters will show up, in New Hampshire and beyond, and not having someone named “Paul” among the options for the first time since 2004 will mean some last-minute shopping. That appears likely to leave them zeroing in on Cruz. He cozied up to Paul earlier in their Senate careers, before turning more hawkish. Any shifts will become targets, of course. But if former Paul voters are looking for someone who talks their talk, it’s unlikely they’ll find a better option in the current field than Cruz.
DISS OF THE DAY with ABC’s MERIDITH MCGRAW -- FACT CHECKS AND BALANCES. During last night's CNN Democratic Town Hall in New Hampshire, Clinton answered a question about the hefty speaking fees she received from Wall Street banks. Clinton stumbled over her answer, saying that the $675,000 paid out to her in return for speeches were "what they were offering." Besides, she said Wall Street is not "giving me very much money now" and she boasted that 90% of her campaign is funded by small donors. On Twitter, the Sanders campaign was quick to offer some fact checks via retweets, pointing out that Clinton raked in $15 million from Wall Street donors and the Clinton campaign can only attribute 15% of fourth quarter fundraising to small donors.
WHAT WE’RE READING -- MEET THE VOTERS WHO WILL CAST THE FIRST PRIMARY BALLOTS OF 2016. Sonja Sheldon has been offering her home here in Millsfield, New Hampshire, to weary travelers for 24 years. But for the last decade, her bed-and-breakfast has taken on a second identity: town hall. ABC’s BRAD MIELKE profiles the town: http://abcn.ws/1nHgDk0
YESTERDAY ON THE TRAIL with ABC’s VERONICA STRACQUALURSI and PAOLA CHAVEZ
WHAT GOP CANDIDATES NEED TO PROVE AT ABC’s NEW HAMPSHIRE DEBATE. Iowa has sent New Hampshire voters a gift, of sorts: a slightly winnowed field. Rand Paul’s departure Wednesday marked the third campaign to call it quits since the caucuses. But several others are calling the New Hampshire primary a do-or-die moment, and in a still-crowded Republican field, Saturday’s primetime GOP debate may represent the last chance for candidates to make their pitch, and inflict damage on their opponents. So where will we see fireworks? ABC’s BRAD MIELKE has more. http://abcn.ws/1SHf5Ca
CLINTON AND SANDERS OPEN UP ABOUT SPIRITUALITY. It wasn’t an official debate, but it was close. Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton took the stage separately Wednesday night in a "presidential town hall" forum on CNN. Moderator Anderson Cooper and New Hampshire voters peppered them with questions ranging from the political to the personal. Each candidate got an hour to themselves, dedicating much of their time to outlining their respective visions –- but neither shied away from taking swipes at their rival backstage. ABC’s LIZ KREUTZ, BRAD MIELKE and MARYALICE PARKS are the moments that stood out. http://abcn.ws/1nI3EhX
NOTED: CLINTON’S PITCH IN THE GRANITE STATE. Clinton's campaign appears to be pulling out all the stops in New Hampshire, despite repeatedly acknowledging that the chances of a win are little to none. At a campaign event in Derry yesterday, the Democratic presidential candidate charged against critics who questioned why she is spending time in the state, ABC’s LIZ KREUTZ reports .“I come here well aware of the fact that a lot of political pundits have been opining, as political pundits do, that I should have just skipped coming to New Hampshire,” Clinton told the crowd inside here at a Boys & Girls club. “I have to tell you, I could not ever skip New Hampshire,” she added, “So I’m gonna be out here, making my case.” http://abcn.ws/1X4aV8e
CARSON ACCUSES CRUZ’S CAMPAIGN OF TRYING TO ‘DISTORT INFORMATION.’ Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said he thinks Ted Cruz's campaign's "dirty tricks" may have affected the outcome of the Iowa caucuses. "I think it did, yes," he said Wednesday at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. "I was getting a lot of intelligence from a lot of different places saying I was going to do extraordinarily well. And I do think it affected that." During the caucuses on Monday night, Cruz's campaign sent an email to Iowa precinct captains saying that Carson was "taking time off" from campaigning and "making a big announcement next week." The email also encouraged to "inform any Carson caucus goers of this news and urge them to caucus for Cruz." ABC’s VERONICA STRACQUALURSI and PAOLA CHAVEZ have more. http://abcn.ws/1nO7RBs
RAND PAUL, RICK SANTORUM SUSPEND 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNS. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Wednesday he is suspending his 2016 campaign for president. "It's been an incredible honor to run a principled campaign for the White House," Paul said in a statement. "Today, I will end where I began, ready and willing to fight for the cause of liberty.” ABC’s MERIDITH MCGRAW notes Paul finished fifth in Monday's Iowa caucuses with 4.5 percent of the vote, behind rivals Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson. http://abcn.ws/1TDfqXi Rick Santorum also announced yesterday that he is suspending his campaign for president and endorsing Marco Rubio. "We are suspending our campaign," he said on Fox News on Wednesday night. "We decided that we want to find a candidate that really espoused the values that he we believed in," he said, adding that he wanted someone who cared about the middle class and family values. "That's why we decided to support Marco Rubio." The failed two-time presidential candidate’s announcement comes after he finished in 11th place with 1 percent of the vote in Monday’s Iowa caucuses, ABC’s VERONICA STRACQUALURSI and RYAN STRUYK write. http://abcn.ws/1P7LKhW
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
TRUMP’S PRIVATE PLANE MAKES EMERGENCY LANDING IN NASHVILLE. Donald Trump's private jet made an emergency landing in Nashville Wednesday afternoon after the pilot reported engine problems, officials said. The Boeing 757 landed in Nashville at 4:40 p.m., the Federal Aviation Administration said. Trump eventually made it to the event he was attending in Little Rock, Arkansas, but the event started late at 7:45 p.m., more than an hour and a half off schedule. The FAA is investigating the incident, according to ABC’s JULIA JACOBO. http://abcn.ws/1SIF24t
@aseitzwald: New Clinton web video accuses Sanders campaign of "knowingly misleading voters" re: endorsements. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=t90WOc0M3ro&feature=youtu.be …
@jbarro: Rubio's position on taxes, with a call for zero capital gains tax, would be extreme compared to past nominees. http://nyti.ms/1mfq498
@politicoroger: Rarely has a candidate quoted the polls as often as Trump. My column: http://politi.co/1SZM2va
@aterkel: In Bill Clinton's White House, Hillary was often the liberal standing up to the administration centrists http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/hillary-clinton-progressive_us_56b2e4a7e4b08069c7a62110?5mydgqfr …