Weld hits ground running in N.H. after launching Trump primary challenge

  • Former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld meets with customers at Manchester’s Airport Diner on Tuesday. Paul Steinhauser / For the Monitor

  • Bill Weld met with customers at Manchester's Airport Diner on Tuesday April 16. Paul Steinhauser—For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 4/16/2019 5:31:14 PM

Bill Weld was in his element.

The former two-term Massachusetts governor who’s the longest of long-shots as he primary challenges Republican President Donald Trump was going table to table greeting voters at Manchester’s Airport Diner, a must-stop for White House hopefuls.

Weld – who on Monday became the first GOP politician to launch a primary challenge – faces an extreme uphill climb to defeat Trump, who remains popular with Republican voters in New Hampshire and across the country.

But that’s the way Weld likes it.

Weld said he can beat Trump, telling the Monitor on Tuesday that he’s used to being the underdog – as he pointed to his election as governor nearly 30 years ago.

“When I ran for governor of Massachusetts, I was less than an asterisk,” Weld explained. “And I went out to every event all summer long and into the fall and I was often all by myself. And little by little, people said ‘this kid keeps showing up.’ And the same thing would be the plan here” in New Hampshire.

And he pointed to another one-time GOP longshot who twice won New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary – the late senator John McCain. The Arizona Republican was tireless when it came to the Granite State’s retail style politics, fueling his primary victories in New Hampshire in 2000 and again in 2008, when McCain captured the GOP presidential nomination.

“John McCain made that work here twice. Not once but twice. He was the underdog both times,” Weld said.

Weld had just come from the fabled Red Arrow Diner in downtown Manchester, his first stop in a two-day swing through the Granite State. He’s made visits to the state almost every week since announcing in February that he was setting up a presidential exploratory committee. And he said that’s going to continue.

“I could be in New Hampshire all day, every day and still sleep in my own bed in Massachusetts every night,” he touted.

Independents – who make up 40% of the state’s electorate – are allowed to vote in either the Democratic or Republican presidential primaries, which could help Weld as he tries to pull the ultimate upset in the GOP nomination race.

“I’ll probably be here part of every week between now and next February,” he added.

Weld has been a consistent and vocal critic of the president.

“I think I can do a better job than he can. I can cut spending. I have the political will to do it. I did that in Massachusetts ... Mr. Trump, whatever his other virtues might, he is not an economic conservative,” Weld said.

And he pledged that he’d protect the climate, unlike Trump.

“I wouldn’t turn my back on climate change and global warming the way Mr. Trump has. ... The Republican Party should not put its head in the sand on climate change.”

One thing Weld apparently isn’t doing is making any friends with the New Hampshire GOP.

“The state party is dead set against me. And they’re taking orders from Washington,” he claimed.

State party chairman Steve Stepanek pointed to Weld’s comments that he wouldn’t support Trump in the 2020 election and to Weld’s time in 2016 and the Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee (Weld re-registered as a Republican earlier this year) and asked “how can he call himself a Republican.”

But Stepanek – who was New Hampshire co-chairman of Trump’s 2016 campaign – said Weld will get a fair shake, adding that “essentially I am neutral in the primary as far as governor Weld is concerned.”

Laurie Medrek, R-Hampstead, was at the diner counter and chatted with Weld. She said she voted for him in 2016 when he was the Libertarian Party’s running mate.

“I am disappointed in the current administration,” she noted. “I like his (Weld’s) social liberal stance and his fiscal conservative stance. I’ll give him a listen.”

Richard Manzo, a Libertarian from Goffstown, highlighted that Weld “did promise the delegates that he was going to be a Libertarian for life at the 2016 Libertarian convention, and since then my opinion has dropped because he left the party without so much as a goodbye.”

But given the choice, he knows who he would vote for.

“If my choices are Donald Trump and Bill Weld in the Republican Party, I would vote for Bill Weld over Donald Trump,” Manzo said.

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