MILFORD, N.H. — Donald Trump returned to New Hampshire Tuesday wounded and humbled by his second-place finish in Iowa, hoping to reenergize his campaign with attacks on Ted Cruz and avoid any perception that air is leaking from his celebrity balloon.
Cruz, meanwhile, arrived in the Granite State looking to expand on his triumph over Trump in the Iowa caucuses.
At a town hall in Windham, Cruz criticized the New York businessman for mocking people, saying voters can learn about candidates from how they treat convenience store clerks and cab drivers.
“The voters of New Hampshire frankly deserve more than” politicians who resort to “personal insults,” he said.
Cruz also lashed out at Marco Rubio, who is a stronger threat in the nominating contest after a third-place Iowa finish, and criticized the Florida senator for working with Democrats on immigration reform.
The results in Iowa scrambled the top tier of the Republican nominating contest before the candidates descended on New Hampshire and immediately began hammering each other anew. The week before the Feb. 9 primary vote promises a blizzard of town halls and diner stops, rallies, and a high-stakes Saturday night debate.
John Kasich has 19 events scheduled in the next seven days, compared with Chris Christie’s 17, Cruz’s 16, Rubio’s 12, and Jeb Bush’s 10. Trump, sticking to big rallies and shunning the sort of up-close retail politicking that has traditionally defined the New Hampshire primary, had just three events on his calendar for the coming days thus far.
Trump said during a press conference in Milford that his decision to skip a Fox news debate last Thursday in Des Moines, in a dispute with the network, may have contributed to his second-place Iowa caucus finish. But he said he did not regret it, and said he would change little about his campaign.
“I don’t think I feel any pressure,” Trump said of expectations in New Hampshire. “We’re just going to do what we have to do. If it works out, that’s great. If it doesn’t that’s OK, too.”
During his rally, he slammed Cruz’s campaign for its tactics in Iowa, including helping spread rumors just before the caucuses that Ben Carson was dropping out of the race.
“These are dishonest people, these politicians,” Trump said. “They are worse than real estate agents in New York.”
He also again mentioned Cruz’s birth in Canada to an American mother, which Trump contends could disqualify him from assuming the presidency.
“He was born in Canada!” he said. “If he gets the nomination, the Democrats are going to sue his ass.”
Cruz compared himself to the White House cold warrior and beloved Republican icon who knitted together a coalition of social conservatives, libertarians, and independents to win the state on the road to the presidency in 1980.
“Washington despised Ronald Reagan,” said Cruz, who has not been endorsed by any of his fellow US senators. “We won the Cold War, tore the Berlin Wall to the ground.. . . . that’s what New Hampshire did.”
The New Hampshire primary this year is the first since 2000 to feature neither a sitting president nor a de facto favorite-son candidate. Senator John McCain repeated his 2000 victory here in 2008 and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney often cited his family vacation home in Wolfeboro.
That has left the race, despite Trump’s months-long lead in the polls, unusually fluid.
While Cruz’s Iowa win will help him consolidate social conservatives in New Hampshire, Trump now has a chance to show he can take a punch, said Charlie Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center free-market think tank.
“He’s still very popular here, it still seems very likely that he’ll do well in a high-turnout state, as opposed to a low-turnout state,” Arlinghaus said. “New Hampshire has always been a better state for him than Iowa was.”
Rubio argued that the GOP nominating contest is now a three-way race between him, Cruz, and Trump. He cast himself as the lone candidate able to unify the party’s varied factions.
“I think people realize on the Republican side that we cannot afford, this country cannot afford, to lose this election and that I give the party the best chance not just to unify the conservative movement but to grow it,” Rubio said Tuesday in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” at Manchester’s Airport Diner.
But Rubio was welcomed back to the Granite State with sharp attacks from opponents who, after banking much of their campaigns on New Hampshire, want to prevent Rubio from becoming the lead establishment candidate.
“Maybe he’ll . . . do more than 40 minutes on a little stage, you know, telling everybody his canned speech that he has memorized,” Christie told reporters following an event in Bedford. “Let’s get the boy in the bubble out of the bubble for the next week in New Hampshire because I will be ready.”
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush escalated his attacks Tuesday on the Republicans who captured the top three spots in Iowa’s caucuses, contending they lack sufficient experience and leadership skills.
Bush likened his response to the three top Iowa vote-getters to the feeling he had eight years ago when then-senator Barack Obama prevailed. Obama’s speech that night, Bush told about 200 employees at a grocery supply wholesaler in Keene, was “pretty moving, it was pretty powerful.”
“When he got elected, he didn’t try to fulfill the mission,” Bush said. His top three rivals, Bush said, are “all gifted in their own unique way.”
But, Bush said, “If you put the lens on of what kind of person can lead, they have no proven record either. None.”
Bush released a two-minute TV ad that featured Trump’s claim that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose votes, and included some of his derogatory comments about McCain’s military service and a reporter with disabilities. Campaign officials said the spot would rotate into Bush’s current New Hampshire ad schedule.
The Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary provides something of a last stand for Bush, who finished a distant sixth in Iowa and has performed poorly in polls for months. Visiting C&S Wholesale Grocers on Tuesday, he won credit from one employee simply for soldiering on.
“I have to give him a lot of credit for coming here and continuing his campaign after yesterday and the caucuses,” said Andrea Wright, a tax supervisor at the firm who said she would likely vote for either Rubio or Cruz.
Kasich, whose focus has been almost exclusively on campaigning in New Hampshire, dismissed the Iowa results when pressed over Rubio’s apparent momentum.
“Look, Iowa has never been a big determiner here if you talk to people in New Hampshire,” Kasich said in Newbury at the foot of Mount Sunapee.
Trump won an endorsement from former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, who hosted many of the candidates for events called “No BS backyard BBQ.”
“The one person who has the independence and can be the change agent to get Washington working again — it was very clear to me, that was Donald Trump,” Brown said.
Brown was the last Republican to be on a statewide ballot in New Hampshire, but he still has limited pull in his adoptive home state. He hasn’t won a campaign since the Massachusetts special election in 2010 — two years before Cruz was sworn into the Senate. After moving to New Hampshire, he lost a US Senate race in 2014 when Republicans picked up seats across the country.
Michael Levenson, Eric Moskowitz, James Pindell, and Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mviser. Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.