These GOP Candidates Can't Leave Iowa Quickly Enough

Some candidates will be gone before caucuses even begin.

ByABC News
January 31, 2016, 1:20 AM

PETERBOROUGH, N.H. -- After more than a year of prognostication and punditry, the Iowa caucuses will finally get underway Monday night.

But don’t expect Republican candidates Jeb Bush, Chris Christie or John Kasich to linger over the results. They’ll already be in New Hampshire.

The three governors, locked in a fierce fight for moderate voters in the race for the GOP nomination, have all but given up hope on a strong finish in the Hawkeye State. According to Saturday’s Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll, they’re stuck in the low single digits, trailing favorites Donald Trump and Ted Cruz by more than 20 points.

In the smaller, more moderate state of New Hampshire, each candidate sees stronger support and a clearer path to the nomination. Christie and Bush will fly -- or flee, as some have described it -- to the state Monday afternoon before caucuses even begin.

Christie, who has spent more days in New Hampshire than any other candidate, will launch a bus tour, while Bush, who has diverted much of his Miami staff to the state, will begin a series of town halls.

Kasich beat them to the punch as he left Iowa for good on Friday, opting to spend his weekend holding town halls across the Granite State.

“There’s only so much of me to go around,” Kasich told ABC News when asked about his campaign strategy. “I only got in [the race] in July. There’s only so many resources. In no way is my effort disrespecting Iowa, but in New Hampshire, it’s like running for Congress. You can get all over the state, and we have. It’s more manageable.”

Kasich is on pace to hold more than 100 town halls in New Hampshire, but has only held handfuls of events in Iowa, including several “tele-town halls” while he campaigns in other states.

Bush, after predicting an Iowa win back in May, denied his travel plans had anything to do with his plummeting poll numbers, saying his flight out of Iowa was “just a matter of logistics.”

“You guys control expectations. I can’t control what I can’t control,” the former Florida governor said.

Bush tersely noted some reporters were already referring to his Iowa results in the past tense.

“Jeb is running a national campaign,” stressed Bush spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger. “We are confident he can build off of Iowa with momentum in New Hampshire, and that will carry him to the nomination.”

Christie began spending more time in Iowa after encouraging signs in New Hampshire, including the endorsement of the state’s biggest newspaper. But the beefed-up Iowa operation has not netted tangible results, and his poll numbers in New Hampshire have receded slightly since a brief December surge.

“Governor Christie is working hard in Iowa, holding 17 events across the state leading up to the caucuses,” spokeswoman Sam Smith told ABC News in a statement. “He will continue to make the case that he is the most experienced, mature candidate in this race directly to voters as he heads to New Hampshire Monday night.”

Kasich spokesman Chris Schrimpf said the race to get back to New Hampshire was no coincidence.

“We have a head start,” he said after Kasich’s town hall in Peterborough Saturday night. “We’ve had more events than anyone here. We have a better organization than anyone here. It is interesting that when we said we’d be in the state, those two followed.”

The early departures for Kasich, Christie and Bush may offer an even bigger head start than any of them expected: potential snow could mean travel delays as more optimistic rivals head out of Des Moines on Tuesday morning.

ABC News’ Candace Smith contributed reporting.