A group of likely New Hampshire voters gathered to watch Wednesday night’s GOP presidential primary debate, leaving many unimpressed and undecided.
It was a packed house for Portsmouth’s Americans for Prosperity debate-watching event. Many were hoping the debate would yield a robust intellectual discourse among candidates.
“If people want to watch a good debate, any presidential debate from the ’70s or ’80s. It’ll simultaneously make you think, and make you mourn for the death of the American intellect,” Republican New Hampshire state Rep. Michael Granger quipped about the performances.
Observers noted the debate didn’t appear successful at swaying voters but rather fermented where candidates stand on issues – and who they don’t like.
“The candidates seemed more assertive last night,” according to Greg Moore, New Hampshire state director for Americans for Prosperity. “But NH voters are still kicking the tires. I don’t know that too many minds were changed or made up from last night, but Granite Staters are certainly getting more familiar and watching candidates more closely.”
A common theme for those watching was foreign policy and military intervention. More said Chris Christie, Nikki Haley and Mike Pence fared the worst, citing their unpopular “neo-conservative worldview on military intervention and foreign policy.” All have ties to former President Donald Trump. Christie, the former New Jersey governor, was once head of his transition team; Haley, the former South Carolina governor, was a UN ambassador in the Trump administration; and Pence is the former vice president.
The anti-war sentiment appeared to be the strongest sticking point for those gathered. Moore attributes the unpopularity of Christie, Haley and Pence among likely New Hampshire GOP voters to the state’s libertarian streak.
However, most candidates received low marks in response to their willingness to militarize the southern U.S. border.
Despite the negative perception of the candidates’ performances during the debate, Moore noted that North Dakota Gov. Doug Bergum appeared to have piqued some interest. At the same time, South Carolina U.S. Sen. Tim Scott “made his presence known.”
“We heard some more interest in Doug Bergum who got more airtime,” said Moore.
Compared to the previous debate, where newcomer and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy seemed to dominate the debate and scored high marks among likely Granite State voters, Wednesday’s group was less impressed with his performance during the second debate.
According to a recent CNN and University of New Hampshire poll, Ramaswamy was the favored candidate behind President Donald Trump.