Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

I’m with crazy, and other notes on New Hampshire

Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio and his children.

David Goldman/AP

Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio and his children.

How crazy is Campaign 2016?

So crazy that a candidate came under vicious attack for using scripted lines — as if that never happened before.

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It’s another sign of the Donald Trump effect, where anything — from curses to insults — goes. That is, anything goes except politics as usual.

If Marco Rubio drops below a second-place finish in New Hampshire, it will be attributed to a shaky debate performance — with “shaky” defined as repeated use of a scripted line about President Obama deliberately wanting to change America, with supposedly disastrous consequences. The substance of what Rubio said was not challenged. Governor Chris Christie just called him out for his robotic repetition of it.

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Some other thoughts, as Granite State voters head to the polls:

P Even with all the post-Iowa media hype surrounding Rubio, doubts about the Florida senator persisted before his rocky debate.

At a Friday night rally in Derry, N.H., Rubio was at his scripted best, speaking lyrically about all the Obama policy reversing he would do on Day One of his presidency. He closed with his poignant, if now familiar, son-of-a-bartender-and-maid biography. Afterwards, Gerry Neiman of Londonderry acknowledged the power of Rubio’s words — which he also recognized as “his stump speech” — but said he remained undecided. “He speaks very well, he’s very polished, very prepared. He seems like a likable fella,” Neiman said, adding that Rubio “fits the bill” of what he’s looking for “with the possible exception of experience.” Also undecided was Sue Smith, of Derry. “I like young, new,” she said, then added wistfully, “I wish Mitt Romney was running now.”

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If Rubio somehow survives his “Boy, interrupted” debate moment and finishes strong in New Hampshire, he could be well-positioned for the next battle. At that Derry rally, he had two friends from South Carolina along for support: US Representative Trey Gowdy, who chairs the House Benghazi Committee, and Senator Tim Scott, the first black Republican elected to the US Senate since Edward Brooke.

PHillary Clinton supporters are counting on their ground game to whittle the gap between her and Bernie Sanders. A come-from-behind New Hampshire win saved Clinton in 2008. In 2016, the best case scenario seems to be a second place finish within single digits of Sanders, which Clinton would try to claim as a “comeback.” Polls have given the Vermont senator leads that stretch from the mid-teens to spreads of 25 points and more. To that end, Clinton volunteers from New Hampshire and beyond are crisscrossing the state. In Nashua on Sunday, US Representative Joe Kennedy fired up the troops, which included a contingent of Beacon Hill lawmakers. The Massachusetts political establishment is solidly behind Clinton — although Senator Elizabeth Warren has not made an endorsement in the race and is also the only female senator who has not backed Clinton. Asked about Warren, Kennedy said, “I would love to see everybody endorse Secretary Clinton. The more support she gets, the better it is.’’ Added Kennedy: “I hope she (Warren) is able to endorse as quickly as she can.” Of course, that sentiment presumes Warren does not endorse Sanders, Clinton’s political nemesis and Warren’s political soul mate.

PNew Hampshire voters are known for rewarding neighbors. So, what about Jeb Bush, whose family stake in Kennebunkport, Maine, also puts him in the neighborhood? The “please clap” headlines out of New Hampshire do not generate much confidence. But his 90-year-old mother is out stumping for him. Like Clinton, Bush is also counting on his ground game. And, of course, by attacking Rubio, Christie did Bush a huge favor.

PSpeaking of huge: Trump loomed large before Iowa and he still leads the polls. But the spotlight has finally shifted to rivals. New Hampshire voters now decide just how much more craziness the rest of the country must tolerate.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.
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