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14 GOP Candidates Will Share The Stage At New Hampshire Forum


This is the busiest week yet in the 2016 presidential race. The top 10 Republican candidates will appear in the first official debate of this campaign season on Thursday night. And tonight, 14 of the 17 candidates took part in a forum in New Hampshire. The candidates appeared on stage one by one. So they didn't engage with each other much, but they did focus on an opponent - the Clintons. Here's South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: As did the Clintons, I've been dealing with this crowd for 20 years. I'm fluent in Clinton-speak. You want me to translate, Jack (ph)? When he says - Bill says - I didn't have sex with that woman, he did. When she says, I'll tell you about building the pipeline when I get to be president, means she won't. And when she tells us, trust me; you've got all the emails that you need, we haven't even scratched the surface. So I understand this crowd, and I can beat them. And if we can't beat them, it doesn't matter.

BLOCK: NPR national political correspondent is at the forum in Manchester, and he joins us now. Don, that's some pretty spicy rhetoric there from Lindsey Graham. Were the Clintons a focus for all of the candidates at this forum?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Leave it to Senator Graham to bring something new to this forum. It was one of the few kind of really original moments in this event that is still going on, actually. What we're seeing, though, as you said, 14 people, a two-hour event and then two rounds, so they each get to get up on stage twice. And it feels like - boy, lightning round doesn't describe it. It's like we're getting mini, mini, mini versions of their stump speeches. I should add, though, three of them are actually not here and on the stage. They're voting in the Senate tonight on Planned Parenthood, and Senators Rubio, Cruz and Paul are there. But they're still here via satellite, still following the same rules.

BLOCK: OK. And also not there because he decided not to go is Donald Trump. Let's talk about some of the other themes that came back again and again in this forum, bashing Obamacare many, many times over. Let's listen to retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson on that subject.


BEN CARSON: There's no question that it needs to be replaced before you repeal it because you don't want to pull the safety net out from underneath people. Obamacare comes along with the government saying, we don't care what you, the people, think; we're shoving this down your throat. And if you don't like it, too bad. That's completely antithetical to the principles of the founding of this country.

BLOCK: Don, did you hear anything new on the topic of Obamacare which has been well-trod in this campaign?

GONYEA: I did not. And some of the candidates were given an opportunity to say, well, is there anything in Obamacare that you like or that you would not repeal? And consistently, they said, we need to repeal it; we need to replace it. So that's been the standard line there for a long time.

BLOCK: Let's also hear a little bit from former Florida governor Jeb Bush. He was talking about a strategy to battle the so-called Islamic State.


JEB BUSH: I think we need special forces. The idea of boots on the ground - I'm not sure that's necessary, but, I mean, this is absurd. If this is a serious effort, then we need to treat it seriously.

BLOCK: Don, foreign policy - a key part of this forum or no?

GONYEA: That - yes, absolutely, that the Obama administration has not been good to our neighbors, has not been decisive. And Jeb Bush there said that America has kind of lost a step. It hasn't been as vigilant as it was after 9/11. Again, it's an area that they will go after President Obama right through election day.

BLOCK: OK. And again, gearing up for the debate on Thursday night, Don Gonyea braving the candidates forum in Manchester, N.H., for us tonight. Don, thanks so much.

GONYEA: All right. Take care. Bye bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.