Republican candidates look for momentum or a rebound

Candidates are looking at Nikki Haley as a possible vice president Image copyright EPA
Image caption Candidates are looking at Nikki Haley as a possible vice president

A day after trading verbal punches in a televised debate, many of the leading Republican 2016 contenders have gathered in Atlanta at an event for the party's conservative activists.

Depending on how they performed on Thursday night, they were either looking to maintain momentum or bounce back.


17:05 local time (21:05 GMT) - Fiorina rumbles

Carly Fiorina, former head of the computing giant Hewlett-Packard, is the woman of the hour in conservative circles, basking in the glow of an acclaimed performance on Thursday in the early Republican presidential debate in Cleveland.

"I think we kind of rumbled last night," she told the RedState Gathering audience as she took the microphone. "What do you think?" The crowd cheered its approval.

If her reception here in Atlanta is any indication, Fiorina-mentum is real. The standing-room only audience hung on her every word, and cheered line after line.

Her boost in attention hasn't come completely out of the blue, however. She's been a surprise crowd favourite at a string of recent conservative events and conferences. She finished a strong second to a highly organised Ben Carson effort, for instance, in a straw poll vote at the Western Republican Leadership Conference in June.

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Over the course of her campaign, Ms Fiorina has had a laser-like focus on the Democratic presidential favourite, Hillary Clinton, and Friday was no different. What did Mrs Clinton do as secretary of state, she asked the crowd.

"Flying is an activity, not an accomplishment," she continued, to laughter. "Please name an accomplishment." She said the Democrat had no noteworthy record to run on and added that the she was untrustworthy.

"In order to win, we're going to have to have a nominee that throws every punch, that does not pull her punches," she added.

As the Republican field's only female candidate, Ms Fiorina is viewed by some conservatives as uniquely positioned to level such sharp critiques.

Audience approval among small groups of conservative activists hasn't translated into national backing so far, however. She placed 14th, at 1.3%, in Fox News's pre-debate aggregate poll standings, perhaps because - as some critics of the process assert - current national polls reflect name recognition as much as real support.

"I had the lowest name ID of anyone running," Ms Fiorina told a room packed with reporters after the speech, adding hopefully that after Thursday's debate - which more than six million people watched - that might be changing.

Afterwards, former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan heaped praise on the performance in the Wall Street Journal.

"This is a strong, gutsy woman," she wrote. "The evening was a reminder that the debates are important. Those not preoccupied with politics were seeing her for the first time. Next time she will belong in the top tier."

Will Thursday's performance get her into that top tier at the next Republican debate in mid-September? And if so, how will she handle the increased scrutiny - and a possible confrontation with the bombastic Donald Trump?

"I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing," she said. "I will speak, I hope, with substance on the issues that matter to voters. I'll take the questions that I'm asked. I learned long ago that the most effective way to compete is to play your own game. I've been competing with men my whole life."


15:25 local time (19:25 GMT) - Will Jindal catch fire?

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal didn't qualify for Thursday night's primetime Republican debate, which garnered 24 million American viewers - a record for a primary event.

He also didn't make headlines while participating in the early debate for the left-out candidates. The consensus is former Texas Governor Rick Perry and former corporate head Carly Fiorina dominated those proceedings.

Mr Jindal has been mired at the bottom of polls, with a 1.4% average according to the Fox News debate rankings, tying him for 12th place with former Senator Rick Santorum.

In past election cycles, now is often the time that conversation for candidates in similar circumstances turns to when and where they will make a graceful exit from the race. Such was the fate of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty in 2011 and Wisconsin's Tommy Thompson in 2007, for instance.

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Image caption Mr Jindal said creeping socialism is like a "European nightmare"

And yet here's Mr Jindal, rolling through his stump speech before a receptive audience at the RedState Gathering in Atlanta.

He's decrying hyphenated Americans and warning - again - that creeping socialism is making the American dream more like the "European nightmare".

He also repeated a more recent applause line. "Immigration without assimilation is invasion," he warned. "We must not let that happen in America."

After his speech, he noted that it's still early in the game. There are lots of debates and forums yet to come, and voting is more than five months away.

Five months can be a lifetime in politics - but it also can be more than a lifetime for campaigns that never catch fire.


12:30 local time (16:30 GMT) - Did Perry gaffe?

"I was up late last night… but not as late as I wanted to be," former Texas Governor Rick Perry joked shortly after taking the stage at the RedState Gathering on Friday morning.

Mr Perry was the highest-polling candidate to miss the top-10 cut-off imposed by Fox for Thursday night's Republican presidential debate in Cleveland, instead appearing in the early event in an empty arena, one derisively termed the "kids' table".

The former governor generally got high marks for his performance there, although there were some questions about whether he accidentally referred to President Ronald Reagan as "Ronald Raven", prompting glee from broadcasters and on social media.

Perhaps the biggest headlines Mr Perry has made recently were his sharp attacks on frontrunner Donald Trump, calling him a "cancer on the Republican Party". The New York mogul was mentioned only in passing this morning, however, and not by name.

Image copyright European photopress agency

Instead Mr Perry reserved all his fire for President Barack Obama, who he says has not been willing to work with Republicans after their midterm congressional victories last year.

"After the trouncing his party took in 2014, he offered a closed fist instead of an open hand," Mr Perry said. "The fact is this presidency has become the imperial petulancy. He's become this nation's chief cynic."

Mr Perry also boasted about his record as Texas governor, and how he dealt with crises like the Space Shuttle Columbia crash, Hurricane Katrina refugees, the wave of young immigrants entering the US from Central America and the outbreak of Ebola in Dallas.

The largely Southern audience gave Mr Perry a standing ovation when he wrapped up his speech - but will enough Republicans nationwide give him enough of a look to get him on the next debate stage, in California on 16 September?


11:33 local time (15:33 GMT) - Nikki Haley ascendant

Could South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley be on the short list for Republican candidates looking for an appealing vice-presidential running mate?

The governor, who comes from an Indian background, rocketed to prominence after the church shootings in Charleston earlier this summer, as she shepherded legislation to remove the Confederate battle flag - considered by some a provocative symbol of white supremacy - from the state capitol grounds.

It was a victory few thought possible, given the strong loyalty many conservatives in the South have felt toward Civil War iconography.

During her Friday appearance at the RedState Gathering, she was asked whether she would be interested if the presidential candidate who emerges from next year's primary battles asked her to be on the Republican ticket.

"It's too painful to think about," she answered. "Nine people died, and so I understand that everybody appreciates the flag coming down, but nine people died… So I'm not ready to think about that. I want to concentrate on building South Carolina back up to where she needs to be."

She may shrug off such questions now, but the topic is sure to come up again.


Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Christie will speak only hours after the debates

11:17 local time (15:17 GMT) - Christie back on the stump

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie showed up at the RedState Gathering after a late-night flight from the Cleveland debate, operating - according conference host Erick Erickson - on just three hours of sleep.

Although his fiery face-off with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul over government surveillance was one of the highlights of the evening's proceedings, Mr Christie made no mention of that, or anything else from Thursday night, on the morning after.

The governor stuck largely to his stump speech, although very early on he spoke about the dire financial straits his state was in when he took office in 2009 - perhaps an acknowledgment of the sharp question he received from the Fox debate moderators about his state's flagging economy.

"We had zero net private sector job growth from 2001 to 2009," he said. "And the state had an $11bn (£7.11bn) deficit that I inherited."

The light moment of Mr Christie's appearance came in the question-and-answer session, when one audience member asked the sometimes bellicose New Jersey governor whether his personality would appeal to genteel Southerners.

"Come on, you're charmed, aren't you?" he replied. "How about listening to this accent for eight years? It'll be wonderful."

He went on to say that, over the course of the campaign, he's found that the US is more alike than it is different.


Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The candidates are moving from Cleveland to Atlanta

10:36 local time (14:36 GMT) - The candidates are moving on

It's the morning after the debate(s), but there's no rest for weary candidates.

Many are heading down to Atlanta on Friday and Saturday to speak at the RedState Gathering, the conservative confab run by grass-roots activist, radio host and provocateur Erick Erickson.

The high profile of this seventh-annual convention reflects, in part, the changing centre of gravity in the Republican Party. It used to be all Iowa, all the time in the August before a presidential year, as the state fair and the closely watched straw poll dominated conversation.

The straw poll ­ originally scheduled opposite this conference ­ has been cancelled, however, and many Republican candidates seem to be giving Iowa, and it's mostly white, more conservative electorate, a pass this year. Visits from candidates like Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio are few and far between.

Instead, the candidates are focusing on New Hampshire and the many Southern states that will hold their primary votes on 1 March ­earlier than past years.

The crowd here at RedState is composed of activists and engaged voters mostly from the South, which helps explain why so many presidential hopefuls are here to make their pitch.

Among the candidates trying to capitalise on their debate performance last night ­or pick up the pieces of a less than stellar showing - are New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Texas governor Rick Perry, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former business executive Carly Fiorina and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.