Some Republican strategists in New Hampshire believe the state is the perfect battleground for President Trump to drive his “law and order” message against Democratic nominee Joe Biden, saying many communities there are similar to Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The Trump campaign selected New Hampshire for the president’s first post-convention rally. He appeared at an event in Manchester Friday.
The decision to go back was made before a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot Jacob Blake, a black man, and protests set the city’s downtown businesses ablaze. But New Hampshire Republicans say Kenosha is a facsimile of the sort of modest towns and employers that proliferate throughout their swing state, opening the possibility that voters will respond favorably to Trump’s claim that mayhem would engulf the country unchecked if Biden wins the presidency.
“Kenosha is Nashua, Manchester, and every other small city in New Hampshire,” said David Carney, a Republican strategist based there. “Those photos of small businesses have been burned into the mind’s eye of every small business owner and employee in New Hampshire.”
“The chaos and rioting in Wisconsin and D.C. seem far away from us here, but people are paying attention,” a Republican operative in the state added. “It plays into Trump’s hands.”
Trump trails Biden by nearly 10 percentage points in New Hampshire in the RealClearPolitics average and enters the fall campaign there an underdog. Even Republicans who believe the issue of public safety could help Trump in New Hampshire concede the president faces an uphill climb in his bid for the state’s four votes in the Electoral College.
Democrats are expressing confidence that Trump’s “law and order” pitch is not the silver bullet he is looking for to turn things around in New Hampshire. “Republicans are comfortable fictionalizing current events to rally their base,” state Democratic Party spokeswoman Holly Shulman said.
Attempting to turn the issue back on Trump, Democrats point out that the civil unrest (in Kenosha and elsewhere) is unfolding on the president’s watch, while emphasizing that Biden has said specifically that he supports peaceful protests but opposes violence under any circumstances.
“Like every other trope perpetuated by Donald Trump to keep voters from defecting, it is contradicted by his actual policy proposals of budget cuts for law enforcement,” Shulman said. “Like Biden, Granite Staters believe Black Lives Matter, rallied to that effect over the summer all over the state in big cities and tiny communities, and want to see reform while still supporting public safety.”
Democrats have experienced success there over the past four years, capturing the state legislature in the 2018 midterm elections and, last year, winning the mayoralty in Laconia, a community of 16,500 people that voted for Trump by 10 points in 2016. The Democrats control both Senate seats and New Hampshire’s two seats in the House. That the state leans left on issues such as healthcare and abortion have helped the party with voters.
But Trump lost New Hampshire four years ago by just 2,736 votes, and the state’s governor, Republican Chris Sununu, is popular. Those factors make the New England battleground an attractive target for a Trump campaign looking for opportunities to flip states the president lost in 2016, which are few. The Trump campaign is active on the ground, attempting to activate voters who stayed home last time but are deemed likely to support the president if they participate.
Some Republicans speculate Trump might benefit from the fact that the coronavirus has shut down on-campus instruction at New Hampshire colleges, potentially depriving Democrats of thousands of voters who would otherwise be living in the state and be registered there. New Hampshire has loosened coronavirus restrictions on businesses, and so far, the Trump campaign’s message to voters there has revolved around the economy, rather than public safety, although that could change with the president’s visit.
“President Trump nearly won New Hampshire in 2016, and after delivering wins for the Granite State for over three years, it’s ripe for pickup this November,” campaign spokeswoman Samantha Zager said.
Democrats emphasize that they are not taking Biden’s big, initial lead for granted.
This week, during the Republican convention, the New Hampshire Democratic Party oversaw 30 virtual grassroots training sessions with field volunteers. And on Friday afternoon, the Democrats buffeted Trump’s planned evening airplane hangar rally with a press conference featuring former Sen. Gordon Humphrey, a Republican who is backing Biden. In a state where independents vote in high numbers, this sort of endorsement could be helpful to the Democratic nominee.
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