Voters who packed a New Hampshire bar on Wednesday to watch the second Republican U.S. presidential debate lauded real estate magnate Donald Trump’s performance. But they were not writing off his rivals.
Trump’s clashes with U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie drew laughs from the group, whose state will hold the first nominating primary of the White House race early next year ahead of the November 2016 election.
Several dozen Republicans gathered around two large televisions on the second floor of a bar in Derry, New Hampshire. Many voiced intense interest in what they heard from the three of 11 candidates who had come from outside politics – Trump, former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
“Nobody’s changed my mind. I liked what I saw, especially Ms. Fiorina and Mr. Trump, they were the standouts,” said Mike Rowland, 77. The pair, who sparred throughout the three-hour debate, stood out for their outsider status, he said.
“People are fed up with voting for regular Republicans, because they know that they get into office and don’t solve the problems,” Rowland said.
His views were in line with those of many New Hampshire voters, with a WBUR/MassINC opinion poll released on Wednesday before the debate showing Trump leading among likely voters in the state’s Republican primary, with 20 per cent support.
Carson had the second-most support of the 404 voters polled, at 17 per cent, putting him in a statistical tie with Trump, given the poll’s 4.9 percentage point margin of error. Fiorina had the support of 9 per cent of respondents, placing her third and ahead of fourth-place former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, with 8 per cent support.
Jeff Odhner, 57, said he thought Bush’s performance had been more dynamic than seen earlier in the campaign, but added that he was still supportive of Trump, who is also leading in national polls of Republican voters.
“I think that Trump is the kind of guy who is going to hire good people, have good people around him and hold them accountable,” Odhner said.
Several voters said they would make no final decisions until closer to the New Hampshire primary and noted that Trump, whose brash style has earned him headlines and television time, could burn out during the remaining 14 months of the campaign.
“I don’t mind him being a front-runner, but it’s still early,” said Brian Chirichiello, a state representative. “I like the fact that he is a businessman, which is good. I just worry that he may be a little one-dimensional.”
The debate setting, on a stage in front of a retired Air Force One plane at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, also prompted debate-watchers to assess which candidate seemed most presidential, said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.
“The New Hampshire primary voter has always been the person who votes for someone who can lead the 50 states. They’re not single-issue voters,” Levesque said. “Who could turn around on that stage and walk on Air Force One and be president of the United States, all 50 states?”
Arthur Evans, a 51-year-old business owner, said he was interested in the debate but placed more stock in candidate’s personal appearances in the state.
Evans, who noted that he was leaning towards U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, said he doubted Trump would survive a sustained campaign.
“I don’t think he’s going to be the nominee,” Evans said. “It’s name recognition, he’s been around since the ’80s and he’s been on TV. But when people go to the polls and get into the booth, I don’t think people are going to vote for him.”
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Howard Goller)
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