About half of New Hampshire delegates pledged to Trump

  • A member of the construction crew polishes the front of the stage for Monday’s opening of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. AP

Monitor staff
Published: 7/16/2016 11:44:18 PM

Former House Speaker Bill O’Brien is packing up his car this weekend and driving 10 hours to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention.

Like some of the other New Hampshire delegates, the Republican has no plans to support businessman Donald Trump.

“He is basically running a reality show on steroids, and conning people into thinking he should be president of the United States,” said O’Brien, a Ted Cruz delegate.

The convention is usually a time when party leaders rally around their presidential pick, in a kind of pep rally before the general election. But this year’s gathering is shaping up to be far from the usual.

Trump has secured the required delegates to become the GOP presidential nominee and is expected to formally accept that title this week. He has yet, however, to win over the hearts and minds of all Republicans.

Some delegates, including former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey, have been working on last-ditch efforts to stop the businessman from becoming the nominee. Protests are widely expected outside the arena, as Cleveland prepares to host an estimated 50,000 visitors.

“It’s going to be watched because this has all the potential for a train wreck happening on live television,” said Wayne Lesperance, political science professor at New England College.

The convention will likely prove a litmus test for whether the GOP can unite before the general election, when the nominee will face off against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. And it will be a chance to see how the crowd reacts to Trump’s newly announced vice presidential pick, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

New Hampshire’s Trump supporters say they remain optimistic their candidate can and will win over skeptical delegates in Cleveland.

“I would hope that we would get some people who are more stand off, to stand in a little closer,” said Salem state Rep. Fred Doucette, a Trump delegate. “That would be my greatest hope, that all of us from the top of the slate to the bottom come firing all cylinders out of this thing.”

But unity will take outreach, work that some non-Trump delegates say has yet to happen.

“You hear every day that they want to unify everyone,” said Pittsfield resident Jim Adams, a Jeb Bush delegate. “You don’t do it by ignoring everyone. That’s not going to work.”

Divisions are perhaps most pronounced in New Hampshire’s own convention delegation. A total of five Republican candidates, including Cruz, Bush, John Kasich and Marco Rubio, earned delegates in the state’s first-in-the-nation primary. While roughly half the state’s 23 delegates going to Cleveland this week are pledged to Trump, the remaining 12 are not.

And few of them have come around to Trump completely. Adams remains concerned with some of the “mean-spirited” things he says Trump has done in the race.

Tom Rath, a Concord resident and Kasich delegate, declined to say whether he is excited about the real-estate mogul’s candidacy.

“I will keep this to myself,” Rath said. “He’s the nominee of our party, but you know, there’s a long time between now and November.”

Others remain staunchly opposed. Humphrey, also a Kasich delegate, drove to Cleveland last week to work on a campaign meant to stop Trump.

Known as “delegates unbound,” the coalition is telling delegates they can actually “vote their conscience” when picking the nominee.

“If most delegates vote their best judgment on the first ballot, Trump will lose. I am utterly confident of that,” Humphrey said. But Trump delegates, like Nashua resident Paula Johnson, say the opposing groups need to “get over it.”

“A lot of us didn’t like Mitt Romney and we went along with the party,” she said. “The goal here is to put the best Republican in the White House and that’s Donald Trump.”

Who’s who

Some high-profile Republicans are staying away from the convention this year. Trump announced a list of speakers last week that includes Cruz, House Speaker Paul Ryan, former presidential candidate Ben Carson and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, among others. But former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush have said they plan to skip the Cleveland affair.

No New Hampshire officials are slated to speak at the convention, and several high-profile state Republicans will not attend.

Delegates Judd Gregg and Bob Smith, both former U.S. senators, dropped out. The Kasich and Cruz delegates, respectively, will be replaced in Cleveland by alternates.

“I just decided to let an alternate go,” Smith said. “It wasn’t a protest against Trump. I support Trump.”

Despite speaking at the 2012 Republican convention, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte will not attend the Cleveland event. Similarly, U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta won’t show in Ohio, his spokesman Jay Ruais said. “He remains exclusively focused on the challenges facing New Hampshire such as the heroin epidemic, the economy, and veterans health care.”

Still, the convention could be a time when the New Hampshire factions start to unite. The delegation will certainly spend plenty of time together. Each morning, members will have a breakfast meeting before heading to the convention center. Speakers include U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Tom Cotton of Arkansas; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who mounted his own short-lived bid for the presidency last year.

The state’s delegation will be chaired by Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former national campaign manager who was let go in June. Lewandowski has since taken a job with CNN as a political commentator.

And despite some friction among the Granite State delegation, the group is united in one goal: protecting the state’s first-in-the-nation primary status. Amid murmurings of a challenge, the rules committee released a proposal last week that keeps New Hampshire’s early nominating status intact. State Republicans rejoiced.

“I am pleased to announce that New Hampshire’s First-In-The-Nation (FITN) Primary has been secured by the RNC Convention Rules Committee,” state party chairwoman Jennifer Horn said. “Retaining our primary is a privilege that Granite State voters have earned and I am grateful that the RNC continues to trust us with this honor.”

(Follow the Monitor’s convention coverage this week at ConcordMonitor.com. Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com)

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