As the focus of the 2016 US presidential race shifts to the New Hampshire primary next week, Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky, announced on Wednesday he won’t be there.
Paul, a popular leader of the party’s libertarian wing, ended his campaign after finishing fifth in the Iowa caucuses, which have traditionally served the purpose of winnowing the field.
The third candidate to exit the race after Iowa – following Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Martin O’Malley – Paul won 4.5% of the votes, and defeated most of his rivals.
But unlike Chris Christie, John Kasich and Jeb Bush, the men he beat, he didn’t have much to look forward to in New Hampshire, where polls had him right at the bottom of the table.
Donald Trump, who continues to lead the Republican race nationally despite finishing second in Iowa, is way ahead of the pack in New Hampshire, with 33.4% in the average of polls.
His nearest rival Ted Cruz, who won the Iowa caucuses, trails him by a massive 21.2%, which some commentators are saying is an impossible deficit to make up.
And the Trump campaign is unlikely to make it easy for anyone to catch up, least of all Cruz, chastened and wiser by the defeat in Iowa, where it lacked the necessary “ground game”.
Trump told MSNBC on Wednesday morning he hadn’t ever heard the phrase “ground game” before, which is essentially a network of operatives to mobilise supporters to go out and vote.
“Well, I think we could have used a ground game, a term I wasn’t even familiar with,” Trump said. “You know, when you say ground game, I say what the hell is that?
“Now I’m familiar with it. I think in retrospect we should have had a better ground game. I would have funded a better ground game, but you know, people told me that my ground game was fine, and by most standards it was.” Cruz, on the other hand, had an excellent network in place, according to multiple experts and reports, and that helped him win the first vote of the 2016 presidential elections.
The battle on the Democratic side shifted to New Hampshire too with a town-style debate scheduled for later on Wednesday for the remaining two candidates to make their pitch.
Bernie Sanders, who finished a second in Iowa by the thinnest of margins, leads Hillary Clinton comprehensively in New Hampshire — 55.5% to 38% in the RealClearPolitics average of polls.
Clinton’s campaign wanted her to skip New Hampshire to focus on the next two states in the primaries, Nevada and South Carolina, where she is expected to do much better.
But, news reports suggested, Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, decided to stay in New Hampshire instead and try and bridge the gap. She wants to slug it out.