Trump rallies NH supporters as Iowans prepare to caucus

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NASHUA, N.H. (AP) — Donald Trump expressed no regrets about skipping a debate, and then he skipped out on most of his rivals in Iowa. Ted Cruz showed off his fundraising haul, while most presidential competitors in both parties hustled through the state in a last-minute scramble to win over fence-sitters before Monday’s crucial caucuses.

With a long weekend of campaigning left, the candidates planned a full slate of get-out-the-vote events, television ads and vigorous expectation setting — all part of efforts to emerge from the Iowa voting with some momentum and a slice of the spotlight.

For months, that spotlight has been on Trump, leaving his rivals angling to post a strong second or third place showing. On Friday, he showed he was already looking past that first contest as he campaigned in New Hampshire. He told a crowd of hundreds that he refused to be pushed around by debate host Fox News and held that up as a trait needed by the nation’s next president.

“When you’re not treated properly you have to stick up for your rights, and if I’m your leader we’re going to stick up for the rights of the country,” Trump said.

Trump held a rally in Des Moines Thursday night instead of attending the debate. His campaign said Friday the event raised some $6 million for veterans’ organizations.

In his absence Thursday night, Trump’s rivals pummeled each other over health care and immigration in an earnest attempt to show they have the staying power to be the Trump alternative.

Cruz followed his performance with a strong fundraising report, saying he started the year with about $19 million in available money, giving him a financial edge over most of his Republican rivals.

Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe announced the cash-on-hand figure during a media breakfast hosted by Bloomberg Politics Friday morning.

Roe added that his organization’s figures show there are 9,131 Iowans choosing between Cruz and Donald Trump, 2,807 people choosing between Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and 3,185 deciding between Cruz and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

“We know the votes that we need, we know the names, their addresses, their emails,” Roe said.

That ground game could be decisive for both Republicans and Democrats wanting to show strength — or at least exceed expectations — in Iowa’s quirky contest.

Campaigning in Johnston, Iowa, on Friday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie aimed to set the bar low.

“People are not expecting much from us Monday night,” he told supporters. “You are going to show, as am I, that real leadership matters, that strong leadership matters and that the people of Iowa know how to pick a strong leader.”

On the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders planned to keep the heat on Hillary Clinton, focusing his efforts on rousing a big turnout from his young supporters and other first-time caucus goers.

The battle was also playing out television, where a blitz of last-minute advertisements told the story.

Sanders has a new ad blasting Goldman Sachs — and by extension Clinton, who collected speaking fees from the giant Wall Street bank. A narrator in the 30-second spot says Goldman helped trigger the financial crisis. “How does Wall Street get away with it? Millions in campaign contributions and speaking fees.”

For Republicans, the message is even more pointed.

Cruz is targeting Sen. Marco Rubio in one ad, a sign the Texan sees his fellow senator as a strong competitor in Iowa.

“Rubio betrayed our trust,” the Cruz commercial says. It first shows a Rubio 2010 campaign video where the Floridian vows to fight efforts to give “blanket amnesty” to illegal immigrants and then footage of Rubio promoting a “Gang of Eight” Senate bill that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for some.

But the Republican candidate spending the most on media in Iowa? It’s the master of free publicity, Trump, advertising tracker Kantar Media’s CMAG shows. In the four weeks beginning Jan. 5, Trump’s campaign has spent $3.4 million, a million more than his next closest spending competitor, Rubio.

Written by Kathleen Hennessey and Kathleen Ronayne