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Presidential hopefuls hit final stretch in New Hampshire

HAMPTON, N.H. – It’s less than two days until New Hampshire voters go to the polls. But Hillary Clinton is in Michigan. And other candidates, even Jeb Bush, say their campaigns will go on no matter how they do on Tuesday. Donald Trump says he doesn’t need to win New Hampshire, anyway.

From their movements and remarks on Sunday, you’d think New Hampshire is unimportant in the race for president. In fact, it’s the nation’s first primary and the next in a series of clues into what Americans want in their next president. But the field is still crowded, and the electorates that await the candidates in South Carolina and Nevada are markedly more diverse. So there are more tests to come for the candidates and the parties.

Republican hopeful Marco Rubio is downplaying his rough outing in Saturday night’s GOP debate, while touting his overall campaign momentum after his third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, hoping to use that momentum to boost his chances in Tuesday’s contest.

Donald Trump, who finished second in Iowa, is pleased with his debate performance and place atop New Hampshire’s GOP polls, and he’s doubling down Sunday on his call for the U.S. to reinstitute waterboarding and even harsher treatment of foreign prisoners.

On the Democratic side, New Hampshire favorite Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton – who narrowly won Iowa – are avoiding predictions about Tuesday and looking beyond to South Carolina and Nevada, the next two states up in the nomination process.

But for other candidates, like Republican Govs. Chris Christie, John Kasich and Jeb Bush, the task is to make sure the closing argument here isn’t their last.

Christie, fresh from a vigorous debate performance in which he battered Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as unprepared for the presidency, told a town hall crowd Sunday in Hampton, N.H., that his exchanges with Rubio showed “who’s ready. I am. He’s not.”

Then he shifted his focus to Kasich and Bush, as the three governors battle for many of the same voters in an effort to remain relevant beyond New Hampshire.

Christie credited Kasich on Sunday for his management of Ohio, then turned the compliment to faint praise. “It’s like Candy Land,” he argued, because Kasich gets to work with a GOP-run legislature. Democrats have run New Jersey for the duration of Christie’s tenure.

Christie added a jab at Bush. “Go to Jeb today and ask him how the joy is going,” Christie said, a reference to Bush’s promise last summer to be “the joyful candidate” among Republicans.

“There’s not a damn thing that’s joyful about this process,” Christie said. “You’ve got to be tough.”

Bush has called in a team of surrogates, from his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, to South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, for his final push.

The three governors have pitched their experience to GOP voters for months, but have struggled to keep Rubio from rising. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is not expected to fare as well in New Hampshire as in Iowa, where he won, but he did make memorable marks in Saturday’s debate, first repeating his apology to Carson for the false rumors and later offering an emotional account of his half-sister’s drug addiction and eventual death.

Democratic candidates Sanders and Clinton are continuing to campaign in New Hampshire, though Clinton is making a side trip Sunday to Flint, Mich., to meet with local residents and officials about that city’s ongoing water crises that has left residents with lead poisoning.

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