Without Trump, GOP hopefuls make calmer New Hampshire pitch

Trump: I could shoot somebody and not lose voters
donald trump iowa rally shooting sot_00001002


    Trump: I could shoot somebody and not lose voters


Trump: I could shoot somebody and not lose voters 00:48

Story highlights

  • New Hampshire's Republican party hosted a gathering of 2016 candidates Saturday
  • Among the speakers included John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina, though Donald Trump and Ted Cruz were not there
  • The event comes just weeks before Granite Residents go to the polls

Nashua, New Hampshire (CNN)With the loudest voices in the Republican primary not in the room, the rest of the candidates tried to break through to New Hampshire voters Saturday in order to keep their presidential hopes alive.

The Granite State GOP hosted a roll call event, billed as a "First-in-the-Nation" town hall, that featured six major presidential hopefuls, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich -- three candidates within striking distance of a second- or third-place finish behind front-runner Donald Trump.
    The candidates hoped that Saturday's format -- half-stump speech, half town hall-style questions -- would appeal to New Hampshire's style of primary voters who expect to be able to grill candidates and see them in their backyard multiple times.
    "I think it's really great that in America, you want to be commander in chief, you want to be the most important political figure in the world, you've got to start by renting a car and driving to town halls and meeting with 30 and 40 people at a time," Rubio told the crowd in a dimly lit hotel ballroom south of Nashua's downtown. "I think that's fantastic."
    And it wasn't just the format. Saturday's event was almost as notable for who wasn't there, as for who was.
    Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who are respectively polling at one and two nationally and in the latest CNN/WMUR New Hampshire survey, were both in Iowa this weekend, leaving the GOP hopefuls to plead their case to undecided Granite Staters in a quieter setting where it might be easier to play up the contrast.
    Bush, who's tied with Rubio for third in the CNN/WMUR poll, went directly after the billionaire businessman in his remarks, saying that Trump's trademark bravado and volume don't represent strength.
    "It is not strong to insult women," Bush said in a sharply worded laundry list of groups Trump has offended during his presidential campaign. "It is not a sign of strength when you insult Hispanics. It is not a sign of strength when you say that a POW is a loser because they got caught. (Arizona Sen.) John McCain is a hero."
    The audience seemed to notice the absence, and it wasn't just New Hampshire residents.
    Mary Barbato, a Massachusetts resident trying to decide between Cruz, Rubio and Trump, said she was disappointed that Trump and Cruz weren't on the lineup but said she liked what she heard from the Florida senator.
    "I think Rubio could surprise us," she said, shortly after Rubio wrapped. "I think a lot of independent voters are going to like him."
    Rubio's pitch to voters was that while he could understand the kind of anger that is energizing Trump's presidential campaign, it's not enough to win the presidential election.
    "Being frustrated about the direction of America alone will not be enough," the Florida senator said.
    Deirdre Byers, an undecided voter from Hales Location township about two hours north of the Nashua event, said she'd been to nine presidential campaign events, and was looking forward to hearing from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and businesswoman Carly Fiorina for the first time.
    "For me, it's much easier if I've seen people, listened to people, talked to people, because sound bites are not a way to make a judgment," Byers said, adding that she'd just missed Cruz when he was in the state Friday.
    Byers said she didn't think she'd vote for Trump, saying that she hadn't had the opportunity to see him yet.
    Kasich, who boasted he will have held 75 town halls in the state this cycle by Sunday night, seemed well aware of how much New Hampshire voters wanted to know about him.
    "They want to look at you," he said of New Hampshire voters. "They want to poke you, maybe take a little smell once in a while, size you up and try to figure out if you've got the right stuff to be president of the United States, and I think it's a great process."
    One other voice missing from Saturday's gathering was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was home in Trenton while his home state dug itself out from a winter storm that paralyzed much of the east coast.
    In his place, his wife, Mary Pat Christie, asked New Hampshire residents for their vote, saying this was her 46th day in the state.
    "Since we started this journey, I've actually done 130 events here," she said, adding, "I think Chris has spent 64 days in New Hampshire, doing it the New Hampshire way more than any other candidate."