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As 2023 draws to a close, primary candidates in NH have 2024 on their minds

Chris Christie sits on a diner stool.
Todd Bookman
/
NHPR
Chris Christie speaks to voters at Linda's Breakfast & Lunch Place in Seabrook, Friday, Dec. 29, 2023.

Several presidential candidates are in the state in the final weekend of 2023, with the New Hampshire Primary looming just over three weeks away.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are all in New Hampshire for the final days of the year. All three candidates are hoping for strong showings in the primary here to help boost their case that they are the candidate best equipped to take on former President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination.

At a stop in Concord Friday morning, Haley told a large crowd that the U.S. needs to strengthen its military and understand growing global threats.

"China, Russia and Iran are bound together in an unholy alliance,” Haley said. “And what brings them together is their hatred of freedom, democracy, and – of all things – America. We can defeat them, but not by putting our heads in the sand."

Haley, who was UN Ambassador under Trump, stressed that she sees China as the biggest problem. Among other things, she proposed ending formal trade relations with the country until it stops its involvement in the production of Fentanyl.

Haley told the audience, at the old Phenix Hall in downtown Concord, that she's the Republican best positioned to beat President Biden in the general election. And she noted that the GOP nominee has lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections.

"That is nothing to be proud of,” Haley said. “We should want to win the majority of Americans. But the only way that is going to happen is if we have a new generational leader who leaves the negativity and grievances of the past and move forward."

Haley told the crowd she still thinks Republican frontrunner Donald Trump was "the right president at the right time," but that reelecting him would sow division and chaos.

GOP voter Terry Mostrum of Hudson, said she agreed and that Haley will likely get her vote.

"She's an alternative to Trump, and really anybody who is not Biden and not Trump, with a brain,” Mostrum said. “And I don't mean to imply they don't have brains, but I've seen what they've done."'

Christie spent Friday morning in Seabrook, speaking with voters at a diner. He worked to contrast himself with his Republican rivals, including Haley and Trump, and said he had the leadership skills to lead the country through uncertain times.

“I would say this: the most important issue in this race is character,” Christie said. “You don't know what you know. We talked about a bunch of issues this morning that are really complicated and difficult, but I guarantee you there are a dozen issues that we haven't talked about that we don't even know about, that are going to come up for the next president, because that's the way the world works.”

Christie also zeroed in on comments made earlier this week by Haley about the Civil War, in which Haley failed to mention slavery as a root cause of the conflict. Christie said he didn’t believe Haley to be racist, but criticized her for what he labeled not telling the truth in order to not alienate certain voters.

“So I want to make it really clear to Nikki this morning, because I know she's still here in New Hampshire, that it wasn't about change versus tradition,” Christie said. “It was about right versus wrong.”

Christie said character should be the defining issue for voters, and that he’s the best alternative to Trump.

One voter, Bill Rosser of Seabrook, said he was impressed by Christie but still thought Trump deserved the nomination.

“I personally still support President Trump because I really saw the difference in the four years he was in office,” Rosser said. “I experienced the difference in my own life. I can't help but want to vote for him again. But at the same time, it doesn't mean that [Christie] can't bring some positive ideas to the table.”

DeSantis has several campaign stops scheduled for Saturday across the state.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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