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Big GOP Names Stump For Local Candidates With Eye Toward 2016


With Election Day looming, candidates across the country are making a mad dash to get out the vote by Tuesday. Many of them are being helped by some big names. Last week we listened to what some of the major surrogates in the Democratic Party are saying on the stump. This morning we'll check in on some of the big names in the Republican Party. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea has been out on the trail this fall listening to a lot of campaign speeches, and he joins us in the studio. Good morning, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Indeed, glad to be here.

MONTAGNE: Now, one of the most active and aggressive campaigners for Republicans in the midterm has been New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. What's he been up to?

GONYEA: A lot of it's been in his role as the current head of the Republican Governors Association. But he's not limiting himself to helping gubernatorial candidates. He'll go to a state. If there's a Senate race, he's getting a piece of that. Like this moment in New Hampshire with challenger Scott Brown, the former Republican Massachusetts senator now trying to return to Washington in this new state.


CHRIS CHRISTIE: This is somebody who has seen it, and he's actually willing to go back there. That is a fighter everybody. That's somebody who's willing to fight for New Hampshire.


GONYEA: Again, New Hampshire, you know Christie is there. There's a lot of buzz about 2016. There's a sense he's running for president, that he's collecting chits and he's trying to move beyond that bridge scandal of the past year and of course that he's looking ahead.

MONTAGNE: Which brings us to another likely 2016 contender. And he's been very busy this year, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

GONYEA: He's perhaps the party's biggest star right now. He's pushing turnout. He's in battleground states, and he can help traditional or evangelical conservatives with libertarian-leaning Republicans. But at every single stop, Rand Paul has a larger message for his party. This is from North Carolina.


SENATOR RAND PAUL: I've said we must either adapt, evolve or die as a party. We need to be a more diverse party. We've got to have more people in our party. They're black, white, brown, I say, with tattoos, without tattoos, with earrings, without earrings, with ponytails - we need to look like the rest of America.

GONYEA: He's talking about the lessons the party needs to learn from its big boss in 2012. You know, maybe not such an important topic in this year's midterms, but it's certainly one that won't go away for the GOP.

MONTAGNE: And speaking of 2012, Mitt Romney's been out there, too, and he's still in high demand.

GONYEA: He is. He's criticizing President Obama. It's not unfair to say his message is, I told you so. This is from Colorado.


MITT ROMNEY: We had millions of people who lost their insurance they were promised they could keep. At the beginning of his administration, he went around the world and a lot of us have said what he did was apologize for America. I think it's now time for him to apologize to America.


GONYEA: And, you know, that could be word for word from his 2012 stump speech. It's been repurposed for today and crowds today love it.

MONTAGNE: Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, has also lent his name and his credibility to GOP hopefuls this year. And what exactly, Don, makes him stand out?

GONYEA: He's made a lot of appearances in really important states - nothing unusual there. But he's also done things like this - a Spanish language ad in Colorado, a state with a growing Latino population that has been good to Democrats. Here's Jeb.


JEB BUSH: (Speaking Spanish).

MONTAGNE: And, Don, does an ad like this suggest that Jeb Bush is preparing to run for president?

GONYEA: Maybe, Maybe (laughter). He'll decide by year's end he says. But the ad is a reminder that he may be able to help connect with voters that Republicans have had trouble reaching.

MONTAGNE: The party turns to these big names to fire up the base obviously. There is another person who really seems to do just that, Senator Ted Cruz.

GONYEA: Right. He's the Tea Party hero. He appeals to those who applaud the government shutdown that he led over the unsuccessful effort to defund Obamacare. His speeches are sometimes the most obviously directed at 2016. Listen to this from a recent event in Kansas.


SENATOR TED CRUZ: A second person was stopped climbing the fence at the White House. The Secret Service came up and said, I'm sorry, Hillary, not yet.


CRUZ: And not ever.


GONYEA: So all this 2014 activity, even if it is about the midterms, it's really providing quite a stage and maybe a preview of 2016.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Don Gonyea thanks very much.

GONYEA: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.