ATLANTA (CBSMiami/AP) — Republican Presidential hopefuls hustled back before voters Friday, following the first GOP primary debate the night before.
Many of the contenders headed south for the RedState Gathering of conservative activists in Atlanta. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush trekked first to New Hampshire, the leadoff primary state. Donald Trump went on TV.
Front-runner Trump told morning talk shows he couldn't recall insulting women in the past, rejecting the premise of a question posed by Fox News' Megyn Kelly during Thursday's night's debate.
"You know, some of the statements she made about the women, I don't recognize those words whatsoever," Trump said on ABC's "Good Morning America." ''We're going to take a very serious look at it."
He won't have to look far. Trump's Twitter feed is sprinkled with insults to women — and some men — that use words such as "dog," ''ugly," ''dumb," ''stupid" and "disgusting." In the early hours of Friday morning, he also republished a tweet that referred to Kelly as a "bimbo."
That dust-up, and Trump's refusal to say he would support the eventual GOP nominee if he's not the party's choice, earned him the top headlines from the debate, overshadowing some of the GOP's biggest stars and creating space for some new faces to shine.
Bush, the former Florida governor, complained that the debate didn't get into substance and marveled at all the public attention it drew.
"Was there no game on?" he asked as he spent his lunch hour Friday rehashing the forum over a lobster roll at Brown's lobster shack in Seabrook, New Hampshire.
"I enjoyed it," he told a well-wisher congratulating him. But he added: "Don't want to do it every night."
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry gave a nod to that scramble during his appearance Friday at the RedState Gathering, noting how he'd been relegated to the pre-debate debate for the seven candidates who failed to qualify for the main event. "I was up late last night," Perry said. "Not as late as I wanted to be."
But Perry campaigned as if he's one of the party's top-tier candidates, sticking to his pitch that his 14 years as governor in Texas prove he's worthy of a promotion.
"It's important for our country to have this discussion about executive experience," Perry said, knocking President Barack Obama as "an inexperienced senator" who has "driven this country into a ditch."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and FloridaSen. Marco Rubio also were speaking Friday at RedState. After making a swing though New Hampshire, Bush will be there Saturday — along with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who now runs the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the ideological and personality struggle within the party as it searches for a nominee is a good thing. In part, he said, because he believes conservative activists are winning.
"Our work outside of Washington is paying off, because every one of those candidates wants to be the 'most conservative,'" he said. "Our job is to start the parade, and we know the candidates will jump in front of that parade and lead it."
Christie told the RedState crowd on Friday that his leadership of a Democratic-leaning state makes him "battle tested for Washington."
That message is the anchor of Christie's pitch as he tries to stand out in the 17-candidate GOP field. But he ratcheted up his emphasis on his conservative views Friday when speaking to a crowd of Southern fiscal and social conservatives skeptical of nominating another governor from a Democratic state in the northeast, as the GOP did with Mitt Romney in 2012.
Christie spent a considerable portion of his remarks emphasizing his opposition to abortion and framing his position in terms of faith.
"Every life is worth salvation, and every life is a precious gift from God," he said.
Christie chided Democratic favorite Hillary Rodham Clinton for framing Republican opposition to giving tax dollars to Planned Parenthood as an affront to women's health care access.
"She's playing the old game, everybody, and we better be ready for it. She says Republicans are against women's health care," Christie said, adding, "Mrs. Clinton, this is not about women's health care and you know it."
Christie said New Jersey has not given public money to Planned Parenthood, which provides cancer screening and other women's health services in addition to abortions, since 2010. But he said the state supports programs that give poor women access to non-abortion services at other health care clinics.
During his Q&A, Christie fielded questions about how Southern conservatives can connect with his boisterous Jersey personality. Christie said Americans from all regions care about a sound economy, national security and individual liberty.
Then, he added, "Think about listening to this accent for eight years. ... You'll just have to deal with the New Jersey thing. It will be fine. Don't worry about it."
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