BERLIN, N.H.—New Hampshire typically crowns an establishment favorite for president—a seal of approval that’s desperately needed in the muddled primary field this year. But the fear among party insiders in the state is that the verdict will be muted because support among the four center-right candidates will be badly splintered.
It’s a mirror image of the national picture, but much more consequential because it’s the first-in-the-nation primary. Here in New Hampshire, the establishment is trouncing Donald Trump, even if it’s not obvious from the polls. Trump is consistently in first place with about one-quarter of the vote, while Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich are hovering around 10 percent, each receiving roughly the same share of more moderate voters. All four candidates spent the final days before Christmas in the state, hoping to break away from the scrum.
New Hampshire state Representative Charlene Takesian is emblematic of the problems facing the GOP’s pragmatic wing. She endorsed Kasich, but attended a Christie town hall in Pelham because she wanted a backup candidate in case Kasich falters. A self-described “moderate Republican,” Takesian said she also liked Rubio but hadn’t gotten to see him speak in the state yet. These strategic considerations are commonplace among New Hampshire voters trying to make up their minds with just over a month left before the February 9 primary.