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Cruz, Rubio and Paul Make New Hampshire Forum — Sort Of

Rand Paul was among the presidential candidates who came to Washington to cast votes against Planned Parenthood, participating in the Voters First candidate forum via remote. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

For three of the 14 presidential candidates participating in Monday's Voters First Forum, the timing was less than ideal.  

Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida all opted to be present for Monday evening's procedural vote on taking up a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Since actual teleporting isn't an option, they made do, appearing St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., through the magic of television.  

That meant crossing over from the U.S. Capitol to the nearby office building that's home to the familiar Senate-side restaurant and watering hole Johnny's Half Shell, as well as numerous TV stations, including C-SPAN. The three senators were seen in photos from C-SPAN and campaign staffers sitting adjacent to each other in a first-floor studio with an all-black backdrop, with the forum moderator calling on each lawmaker individually.

And the three senators ultimately stayed around until the end, despite being the first three to provide their closing comments in the forum's second round, but despite the swarm of media in New Hampshire, there was not a single campaign reporter or producer to be found for those left behind back in D.C.  

"I've still got an important job here that I want to be a big part of, and this week I was a big part of getting a vote on Planned Parenthood, and I'm going to keep fighting on that," Paul told CQ Roll Call in a brief interview. "I think for us it was important to be here, and I've got two different things. I've got to do my day job, and then also try to run at the same time."  

"I'm proud of the fact I haven't missed very many votes. I think I've been here 99 percent of the time," said Paul.  

Paul stands alone among the current crop of GOP candidates in that he is also running for re-election to retain his Senate seat in Kentucky. Cruz and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are not up for re-election next year, and Rubio has made the decision to not seek another term representing Florida in the Senate, a decision that's helped to set up one of 2016's more intriguing races .  

Cruz also told CQ Roll Call that attending the forum in person in the Granite State would have been preferable.  

"It would've been better to be there in person, but with the vote on defunding Planned Parenthood, that was an important vote and there was no I was going to miss it, and so I appreciated the host of the event allowing us to do it by satellite," Cruz told CQ Roll Call.  

CQ Roll Call's one-man spin room reporter in the courtyard of the Capitol Hill office building that became the makeshift venue Monday did not catch Rubio as the lawmakers departed.  

For his part, Graham worked the crowd in Manchester, delivering a line about politicians in official Washington needing to drink more that was probably better before a live audience than dealing with an inevitable satellite delay. That meant missing Monday's vote against Planned Parenthood — with Graham taking flak on Twitter as a result, although the vote itself wasn't close.  

The event, which had the backing of media organizations from early primary and caucus states, ended up being a prelude of sorts to the first debate of the 2016 primary season sanctioned by the Republican National Committee, which is scheduled for Thursday night in Cleveland. It should be a safe bet that the senators will not let official business get in the way of being in Ohio for that.

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