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Trump's GOP Challengers Look To New Hampshire


Vice President Mike Pence is campaigning. Just this week, Mr. Pence swung through Virginia, Kentucky and, most recently, New Hampshire, home to the first-in-the-nation primary, of course. It's also a place where the Trump ticket suffered one of its closest losses in 2016. From New Hampshire Public Radio, Lauren Chooljian gives us a snapshot of how the Republican primary seems to be shaping up there.

LAUREN CHOOLJIAN, BYLINE: There's no doubt that President Donald Trump has many Republican fans here. Prime example, the New Hampshire Statehouse on Thursday. For a few hours, the old hallways transformed into a mini Trump rally. Dozens of supporters waited for hours just to catch a glimpse of Vice President Mike Pence and to yell out a few four more years chants.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, Mr. Secretary, thank you so much. Thank you for the warm welcome. It's great to be back in New Hampshire.

CHOOLJIAN: Pence was in town for the classic New Hampshire primary filing tradition, signing the paperwork to get President Trump's name on the ballot. But the Trump ticket seems to have their eye on this small state for a few reasons. First, Pence says their movement started here, a movement that he says...


PENCE: Restored and strengthened the constitutional foundation of our courts, has America standing tall in the world again, has made America great again, began here in the Republican primary in New Hampshire.

CHOOLJIAN: New Hampshire is one of the ones that got away, so to speak. Hillary Clinton beat Trump here in 2016 by just around 3,000 votes, a loss that's still fresh.

Are they focused on New Hampshire, like, in any special way?

AL BALDASARO: Oh, big time. Big time.

CHOOLJIAN: This is Al Baldasaro, a state Representative and New Hampshire co-chair of the Trump campaign. And he says he wishes New Hampshire Republicans would just cancel their primary.

BALDASARO: I wish we didn't have one. I wish we stuck together as a team. But we have that 5% or 10% of Trump haters. There's no way around it.

CHOOLJIAN: That's the thing about New Hampshire right now. There are at least three GOP challengers who see this state as a place where they could make a stand against Trump. They are former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh. While other states have canceled Republican primaries and changed rules to keep out insurgent candidates, New Hampshire welcomes anyone with a thousand-dollar check to the primary ballot. New Hampshire is also still a place where there are plenty of Republicans who still cling on to a pre-Trump-era Grand Old Party.

The same day Pence was in town, former Ohio Governor John Kasich and one of the last vocal Trump critics in the GOP - he was here, too. Despite not being an actual candidate, he can still fill a small auditorium on a weekday afternoon.


JOHN KASICH: And in terms of the Republican Party, it better change. And I don't recognize this party - not the party I belong to.

CHOOLJIAN: But the big question, as Kasich sees it, is how many Republicans are truly out there looking for another option?


KASICH: If it was these giant, magnificent numbers, this whole place would be filled and there wouldn't be any room. So obviously, not that many people worked up. But I appreciate you all coming.

CHOOLJIAN: Bob Kierstead came to the Kasich event because, as he puts it, the political horizons are often changing around here. And while he voted for Trump...

BOB KIERSTEAD: If the president becomes damaged by whatever they're going to do in this process, he could be a wounded bird, so to speak.

CHOOLJIAN: Kierstead says depending on the impeachment proceedings, he may vote for someone else.

KIERSTEAD: Perception is once that happens, you probably can't get - can't remove that tarnish. It's probably there, going to stick with him. So he may not be able to really effectively govern.

CHOOLJIAN: So Kierstead says now is a time for Republicans in New Hampshire to sit quietly and watch.

For NPR News, I'm Lauren Chooljian in New Hampshire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lauren is NHPR’s Politics and Policy reporter for the State of Democracy project.
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