KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The election season has officially kicked off in New Hampshire with candidates filing today to get on the ballot for the first presidential primary in the country. Marco Rubio was there. He's looking to catapult his candidacy after a solid debate performance. NPR's Don Gonyea is there too. He saw Rubio today, and he saw Jeb Bush last night. And he's been talking to voters all along the way. He joins us now. Hi, Don.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Greetings.
MCEVERS: It sounds like a lot's going on there. I mean, let's start with Jeb Bush. I mean, he's been struggling lately. Is New Hampshire a must-win for him?
GONYEA: It's a place he has to win, and voters here are asking the question. When is he going to pick it up? That said, he seems to be enjoying himself the past couple of days. There was an event in the town of Raymond last night. He was comfortable. He was having fun, talking policy. Still, that image of him struggling hangs over things. And give a listen to this. One audience member asked a question about entitlements, but then they finished it up with this.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So I'm anxious to hear what you would do. And by the way, good energy tonight.
JEB BUSH: I actually have pretty good energy every night, but...
GONYEA: And then Jeb there kind of pretended like he was riding a bicycle or something - a potentially awkward moment, but he actually turned it into a fun one. So that's something he's doing now.
MCEVERS: As we said, Marco Rubio's there too. He's, you know, riding on the momentum that he created by his performance at the last debate. I mean, what's he talking to voters about?
GONYEA: Well, Marco Rubio catching on here, if he does, would be Jeb Bush's nightmare. Rubio is portraying himself as part of a new generation of American leaders who see the world and the economy as it is today - changing, fast. Give a listen to this.
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MARCO RUBIO: This economy looks nothing like the economy of 15 years ago, doesn't look anything like the economy of five years ago. And it's not just that it looks different. The structure of the economy is different, but the pace of change is faster than ever. There's a statistic I always use. It took the telephone, which is an extraordinary invention - it took the telephone 75 years for a hundred million people to use it. It took Candy Crush one year to reach a hundred million people as users. That's how fast things are changing.
GONYEA: So a Candy Crush reference there. He was asked questions at this event about pro football. It was kind of a getting-to-know-you session. He was asked about "Star Wars." Turns out he says he used to hate Darth Vader. Now he feels sorry for him.
GONYEA: But the key here is Marco Rubio has not been in this state very much, but expect him to really ramp it up as he tries to connect with voters between now and the February primary.
MCEVERS: And you've been talking to those voters. I mean, what are they saying?
GONYEA: You know, you work the crowd. And even selected people - self-selected people who've come because they like Jeb are quick to tell you they like Rubio too. The drawback for Rubio is that a lot of these voters think he's too young. Some say he's too much like Obama - doesn't have enough experience. The warning sign for Jeb Bush - the super PAC supporting him has been blanketing the airwaves with ads, and the numbers haven't moved even with that help.
MCEVERS: And you've been in New Hampshire a lot over your career and during this election. You were there over the summer a few times. I mean, how have things changed in New Hampshire?
GONYEA: Here's what happens. They leaves change, and the urgency starts to ramp up. And you can sense that people are looking at the candidates and sizing them up and saying, can this person win, and is this the person I want to vote for? So you can tell that time is getting short and that minds will be made up soon.
MCEVERS: That's NPR's Don Gonyea in Manchester, N.H. Don, thanks so much.
GONYEA: My pleasure.