Eye on 2016, Republicans barnstorm early-voting New Hampshire

 Several Republican presidential hopefuls crowded into New Hampshire including Jeb Bush, who launched his 2016 debut in the early-primary state Friday to court some of America`s most influential voters.

Washington: Several Republican presidential hopefuls crowded into New Hampshire including Jeb Bush, who launched his 2016 debut in the early-primary state Friday to court some of America`s most influential voters.

There may be 20 months until the election, but it`s never too soon for political pilgrimages to the Granite State.

Four prospective Republican White House contenders converge on the well-trodden New England turf from Friday to Monday, in one of the biggest campaign trail previews for 2016.

The state holds the nation`s first presidential primary less than a year from now. And while its population is pint-sized, New Hampshire enjoys cherished superpower status in terms of giving the thumbs up -- or down -- for candidates.

Bush dropped in Friday for two events, his first political trip to the state in 15 years, while another rising Republican, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, began no fewer than five meetings with potential supporters and donors that will carry through to Saturday.

"They are both making first impressions," Fergus Cullen, a former state Republican chairman who hosted Bush at a house party late Friday, told a news agency.

"Anyone who`s ever been on a first date knows how important it is to make a good first impression."

And Bush was in political courtship mode.

"I know If I`m going to go beyond the consideration of running I have to share my heart and tell my life story in a way that gives people a sense that I care about them," Bush told about 100 guests at Cullen`s home, where he described his visit as "my inaugural voyage."

Bush is the latest politician in his family to seek the presidency. His brother, George W Bush, and his father, George HW Bush, have both already held the office.

Bush spoke at length about his backing for education and immigration reform, stances he knows have angered conservatives.

"I`m not backing down on this," he said about his support for improving federal school standards.

He slammed President Barack Obama`s foreign policy as "retrenchment" that empowers jihadists and fuels international crises such as Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Bush, a former Florida governor, also pointed to inclusiveness, something Republicans have struggled to achieve following Mitt Romney`s 2012 loss to Obama.

"We have to go out and reach out to people... not with a divisive message but one that`s unifying," Bush said.

Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz is reaching out too. The conservative US senator arrives Sunday for the first of three New Hampshire gatherings.

Former Texas governor Rick Perry attended four events in New Hampshire Thursday and squeezed in four more Friday.

"You all appreciate plain talk about as well as any place in this country," Perry told The New England Council business group.Several other Republican hopefuls including Senator Rand Paul and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have visited too.

"This is as wide open a race as I`ve ever seen," Cullen said.

Opposite conditions exist for the Democrats, with Hillary Clinton as their all-but-certain frontrunner.

But frontrunners of all political stripes, including Bush`s father and brother, have suffered upsets in New Hampshire, where voters are less interested in a candidate steamrolling to victory and more eager to engage multiple politicians.

"There is something about the electorate here that does not like a coronation," said Cullen.

Democrats are equally aware that New Hampshire is a political proving ground.

The state`s voters "get to kick the tires of the folks who are seeking the highest office in the land," Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz told reporters.

Clinton won the 2008 New Hampshire primary only to lose the nomination to Obama.

Party sources say she is staffing up there ahead of a probable campaign, local station WMUR reported Friday.

Along with the personal appearances in the state, political attacks came as well.

Wasserman Schultz slammed the Republican "circus" invading New Hampshire, saying their candidate, whoever it may be, will not work for the middle class but "push policies that allow for the wealthiest, most fortunate Americans to do even better."

There was Republican-on-Republican feuding as well.

Walker told the Tampa Bay Times that while he thinks "highly" of Bush, Republicans will "need a name from the future -- not a name from the past -- to win" in 2016.

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