Donald Trump shrugged off a second place finish in Iowa, suggesting Tuesday that New Hampshire – which holds the nation’s first primary on Feb. 9 – “fits me better.”
Trump’s rivals had sensed weakness in the brash billionaire who promises voters endless wins, but Trump exuded calm confidence Tuesday night at a press conference ahead of a rally here, insisting he hadn’t invested “tremendous” time or money in Iowa.
“We had 17 candidates,” he said, adding at one point: “I’ve been in politics for all of six months.”
Still, Trump sought to lower expectations for a first-place finish in New Hampshire, even as he pledged to add more retail events in the state. He said he’d “love to finish first,” but it wouldn’t be “horrible” if he didn’t.
“I’m not humiliated,” Trump later told the crowd jammed into a cavernous athletic club, some watching from an overflow room. He called the press the “worst people ever” for suggesting that Marco Rubio – who finished third – had a better night than him.
Trump, Rubio, the rest of the Republican field and the Democratic presidential contenders arrived in New Hampshire – which votes in less than a week – hours after voters in Iowa left their precinct caucuses.
Trump picked up the endorsement Tuesday of former Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who lost a New Hampshire Senate campaign in 2014. Brown, who introduced Trump at the rally, said he believe only Trump could be a “change agent” to get Washington working.
Ted Cruz pulled out a narrow win in Iowa over Trump, with Rubio delivering a strong third-place finish. Rubio also picked up a coveted endorsement Tuesday. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said Republicans “have one shot in 2016 to beat Hillary Clinton and that shot is Marco Rubio.”
The Florida senator’s solid showing increases pressure on other establishment Republicans to deliver victories here or be forced to rally around Rubio’s candidacy in an effort to thwart Cruz and Trump – who have earned the enmity of party stalwarts.
A New Hampshire win by Trump, who is leading here, or Cruz, who is further back and not considered a natural fit for the state but could pick up steam with his Iowa surprise, could propel them to victories in South Carolina, Nevada and much of the South.
Cruz, who picked up the endorsement of Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-SC, held a town hall meeting at a church before departing for a rally in South Carolina. But he plans to return to New Hampshire on Wednesday and spend the week up to the primary here.
And New Hampshire will be a two-person tussle after Democrat Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders finished in a virtual tie in Iowa. New Hampshire delivered a lifeline to Clinton in 2008 after her third place finish in Iowa, but polls this time show her trailing Sanders, the senator from neighboring Vermont.
The final Iowa results show Clinton received 49.8 percent of the vote and Sanders received 49.6 percent. The contest could now stretch easily into March with Clinton forced to fight for a nomination many had long assumed was hers for the taking.
Clinton claimed the mantle of victor, taking to the stage at Nashua Community College to say she was “thrilled to be coming to New Hampshire after winning Iowa.”
Noting that she’s now won and lost in Iowa, she added, “it's a lot better to win.”
Sanders, who galvanized a group of Democrats including many younger, first-time voters, held a get out the vote rally at a theater near Keene State College.
He said he considers Iowa a victory, regardless of the margin.
“We started that campaign 40, 50 points behind,” he told CNN as he landed in New Hampshire. “Whether we lose by a fraction of a point or we win or whatever, we are very proud of the campaign that we won.”
He called the showing proof that he can compete against Clinton: “We're going to fight really hard in New Hampshire,” he said. “Then we're going to Nevada, then we're going to South Carolina. We look forward to doing well around the country.”
Trump and Sanders enjoy healthy leads over their rivals in New Hampshire, though a recent WMUR/CNN New Hampshire primary poll contained some cautionary notes.
On the Republican side, Trump was the candidate New Hampshire Republicans said they were least likely to vote for and just 39 percent of Republican primary voters said they’d firmly decided how they’ll vote.
The Republican poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center had Trump with 30 percent, ahead of Cruz at 12 percent, followed by Rubio at 11 percent.
John Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush, the trio of governors who mostly bypassed Iowa to campaign relentlessly in New Hampshire, registered in the single digits. All three, who are running in the establishment lane, along with Rubio, left Iowa to campaign here Monday.
At his first event of the day at Franklin Pierce University, Bush sought to contrast his record as a two-term Florida governor with what he said were two freshman senators who haven’t made tough calls and aren’t ready to lead our nation.
Christie had already nabbed the coveted endorsement of the conservative New Hampshire Union Leader, a decision that sparked a feud between its publisher and Trump. A front-page editorial labeled Trump a “crude blowhard with no clear political philosophy” whose campaign insults New Hampshire voters’ intelligence.
On the Democratic side, Sanders led Clinton, 57-34 percent. More than 40 percent of Democrats said they had not definitely decided who they’ll support. They will debate Thursday evening, a late addition to the debate schedule.
The Republicans will debate for the eighth time Saturday.
Anita Kumar contributed