By JOHN DiSTASO, News Editor
MANCHESTER— Seven months ahead of the 2014 mid-term elections, the 2016 first-in-the nation primary preliminaries began in first-primary state New Hampshire on Saturday. Three top potential conservative Republican presidential contenders, and several more who may run, unleashed a barrage of anti-Barack Obama and Democratic rhetoric to begin the arduous job of currying favor with the Granite State’s true believers.
The venue was the “Freedom Summit” sponsored by the conservative advocacy groups Citizens United and Americans for Prosperity Foundation. The key players were Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Cruz said that people often tell him, “I’m scared. We are bankrupting the greatest country in the history of the world.”
But he said, “I’ m profoundly optimistic that we are going to turn this nation around. Number one, we need to stand for liberty,” which he said is “have been more under assault than it is right now.”
“Please leave your cell phones on,” said Cruz. “I want to make sure President Obama hears every word I have to say.”
Paul, a well-known entity to the libertarian-minded Republicans due to many New Hampshire appearances on his own behalf and on behalf of his father, urged the conservatives to broaden the party by considering the needs of minorities and women.
The supporting cast was led by the always-fiery Donald Trump and former House speaker Newt Gingrich.
The targets for the verbal attacks were Obama and the Democratic lineup in New Hampshire, headed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
Topic Number One for the day was Obamacare, referred variously as a “lie,” and a “catastrophe.” President Barack Obama was also decried as a weak leader who has hurt the U.S. standing in the world.
The judges were the approximately 700 in the room at the Executive Court for what was being called the first “cattle call” of the upcoming first-in-the-nation presidential primary campaign. A small booklet of the United States Constitution was waiting on each chair as patrons took their seats.
National media covered the event to catch the first major overtures being made by the potential conservative hopefuls in the Granite State.
Behind the scenes, contacts were made and perhaps a promise or two was given. The makings of presidential campaign ground organizations were laid as the visits are expected now to pick up rapidly.
The proverbial “red meat” was dished out early by the ever blunt Trump, calling Obamacare “an absolute catastrophe. It has been the single greatest lie I’ve ever witnessed and I’ve been in politics and watching politics for a long time.”
“Our country has got to be brought back, and it’s got to be brought back fast.”
(See separate story elsewhere on NHJoural.com for more on Trump’s comments.)
The event also marked the return of former House speaker Newt Gingrich to a New Hampshire podium for the first time since his disappointing fifth place finish in the 2012 first-in-the-nation primary.
“Not only are they liberals but they’re really incompetent liberals,” said Gingrich of the Obama administration, calling them “nutcakes who can’t figure out how to put the jar back in the peanut butter.”
Gingrich called likened Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, “prison guards of the past.”
“We need to explain in a positive way what were going to bring to America,” said Gingrich. “We’re in a big mess and people like Jeanne Shaheen need to be held accountable for creating that mess.”
Paul urged the group not to be “sunshine patriots. Will you stand like men and women of courage and fight for your freedom?
“I for one have had enough and will not waiver in my defense of freedom. I will not wilt in the face of adversity.”
Paul said some Republicans “say, ‘Let’s be a little more like the Democrats. Hogwash. Our problem is not that we are too bold. It is that we are too timid.”
Paul called for an end to “corporate welfare,” saying, “We cannot be the party of fat cats, rich people and Wall Street.”
He also called for expanding the appeal of the GOP to the young and minorities.
“There are injustices. Black unemployment is still twice white unemployment,” he said. “If we want to grow our movement we have to add new people. I want to tell the workers of America that we’re on your side.”
“The debate must not be about who cares more,” Paul said. “It should be about whose policy helps people more.”
Later, at a news conference, Paul refused to attack former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s comment about illegal immigrants. He called them “well-intentioned,” but said some people could misconstrue the comments as a suggestion for “inviting everybody” to the country who wants to come here.
Paul said that he is a social conservative but believes in federalism.
“I think there is an arrogance to having an absolute litmus test,” he said.
Cruz said, “Please leave your cell phones on. I want to make sure President Obama hears every word I have to say.”
He called for repealing the “common core” education standards program and for abolishing the IRS. And he accused the Obama administration of “ignoring law after law after law.”
“When you have a President who tries to pick which law to follow and which law to ignore, then you no longer have a President,” Cruz charged.
At his news conference, Cruz brushed aside questions about his own potential candidacy, saying, “I’m focused on encouraging these grassroots activists and I think New Hampshire will be ground zero in this fight.”
Cruz also refused to comment on Scott Brown’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate.
“What I want to see from New Hampshire is that they elect a Republican senator,” but he said Granite State primary voters can decide on the Republican nominee.”
Huckabee, the final speaker, heaped more intense criticism on the administration.
He recalled that as governor he spoke to a classroom in which a young girl was worried about getting to the cafeteria and eating her corndog.
“That little girl going to school that day did not think about much else, he said. “I wish that every kid in America would only have to worry about the warmth of their corndogs.
“If we’re not careful the think that that little girl has to worry about will be far worse than the duck and cover days of early 1960s when we were worried about a Soviet attack.”
“I’m worried about what our own government is doing to us,” he said. “We are worried about the very landmarks of the very liberty of this country that we used to view as most important.
He said the government is more worried about the Nevada standoff with a Nevada cattle farmer than the death of four Americans in Benghazi “and no one was there to answer the phone at three in the morning.”
‘I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea than there is in the United States,” Huckabee said.
Also decried the “criminal enterprise known as the Internal Revenue Service.”
At a news conference Huckabee said it far to early for him to begin serious consideration of whether to run for President.
As for other potential candidates, “I don’t put a lot of stock in the horse race these days.”
While he is still a staunch conservative on social issues, Huckabee said, “All of us understand the number one issue is getting the economy back on track” and restoring “that sense of leadership in the world.”
Earlier, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who some Republicans believe may be a vice presidential prospect, was the first elected official to speak. “My guess is this isn’t the last time you will see” the potential candidates, she said.
Ayotte said that having the event a few days before tax day, April 15, punctuates that “government has grown too large and too intrusive.”
She quoted the late Gov. Meldrim Thomson Jr, who said, “New Hampshire is what America was.”
Obamacare, she said, is “an example of bigger government rather than government helping you solve the problem.”
“I have heard from the people of New Hampshire and the people of New Hampshire want us to work to repeal this law and replace it with common sense reforms.
“To repeal Obamacare,” Ayotte said, “we have to win elections. When we take over the United States Senate, Harry Reid will go.”
“Anybody who is thinking of running in 2016 should be focused right now on 2014, and that’s what we have here today,” said Mike Biundo, founder of the advocacy group Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire and former campaign manager for former Sen. Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign.
In an interview prior to the event, Biundo said that several of the candidates had already been in the state and “have been doing all the right things, talking to people, making contacts, building relationship. All the things you do if you are going to run in the first-in-the-nation primary. It should be fun.”
Corey Lewandowski, regional political director of AFP said, “I think we all can agree that our time has come.”
Citizens United president David Bossie, noted that his uncle, Bob Bossie, serve in the state Senate in New Hampshire, “unfortunately as a Democrat.
“New Hampshire is a state that takes its politics very seriously,” he said. “You ask the tough questions. You take this process to heart. There is no other state that should be the first-in the-nation primary state. It is a state that truly embodies what it means to be free.”
Former New Hampshire House speaker Bill O’Brien was named AFP-New Hampshire’s “Conservative of the Year” award, joining past winners Ayotte and former U.S. Senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne.
In his speech, O’Brien called Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Gov. Maggie Hassan and Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann Kuster “enemies of freedom, enemies of New Hampshire.”
Overall, the event had the feel of the start of the race. The gun has now been sounded, the gates have been opened, and they’re off and running.