Despite claims of unity, N.H. delegation remains divided over Trump

  • Members of the New Hampshire delegation listen during the roll call vote at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on Tuesday. ALLIE MORRIS Monitor staff

  • Corey Lewandowski, the delegation’s chairman and former campaign manager, stands at the microphone where he announced the state’s vote during the roll call at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on Tuesday. ALLIE MORRIS / Monitor staff

  • Delegates fill the floor during the second day session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Tuesday, July 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) Matt Rourke

Monitor staff
Published: 7/20/2016 12:20:09 AM

Sitting between delegates on the convention floor wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, Bedford’s Melissa Stevens stuck out. The 36-year-old Jeb Bush supporter wore a black #NeverTrump shirt beneath her white blazer.

Despite claims from the state’s Trump backers that the convention would usher in a new era of party unity, many delegates, like Stevens, remain outright opposed to the New York businessman’s candidacy.

“I did what I could,” Stevens said after the New Hampshire delegation votes had been read. “It feels like it’s a bizarre world we’re in right now. I don’t quite understand it.”

New Hampshire is poised to become a critical battleground come November. But delegates’ lack of enthusiasm for Trump at the convention, which is meant to rally Republicans around their candidate before the general election, could signal larger problems for Trump in the Granite State.

On Tuesday night, Trump secured the required delegates to claim the GOP presidential nomination. The largely ceremonial procedure consisted of states announcing their votes, one-by-one, to the full convention hall.

Eleven of the 23 New Hampshire delegates cast ballots for Trump. But the remaining dozen, a slim majority, went to four other Republican candidates, in line with the state’s primary results.

While the latter group was technically free to support Trump, it all opted to cast votes for their pledged candidates, including Bush, Ted Cruz and John Kasich.

“We cast our votes in that manner so every voice in New Hampshire was heard tonight,” said state party Chairwoman Jennifer Horn.

The vote was emotional for some of the state’s Trump delegates, who supported the long-shot candidate early on and are seeing their dedication pay off now.

Salem’s Fred Doucette, a Trump delegate, said non-believers will still come around, especially after tonight, when the candidate is scheduled to address the full convention.

“People don’t necessarily understand the delivery of Mr. Trump’s message. That is the biggest obstacle,” Doucette said. “Delivery has been cleaned up a lot. I think we are going to get more people coming over.”

Others remain firmly planted in opposition. Former U.S. senator Gordon Humphrey, a Kasich delegate who has worked for weeks on “dump Trump” efforts, said Tuesday he was driving home and changing his party affiliation.

“I will change my registration from Republican to undeclared, until such time when Donald Trump’s influence is utterly expunged from the party,” he said.

In reality, neither side is making overt efforts in Cleveland to mend wounds and change minds.

State Rep. Bill O’Brien, a Cruz delegate who won’t back Trump in November, said unity is elusive because Trump made disparaging remarks about many Republican candidates.

“There’s offense taken,” he said. He isn’t sure whether that will be resolved.

State Rep. Steve Stepanek has been “going around the state” to build up support ever since Trump became the presumptive nominee. But ultimately, he said, its on Republicans if they don’t line up behind the businessman.

“We’re all about healing the party, getting everyone on board,” he said. “Any Republican who is not actively supporting Trump is making a major mistake.”

In Cleveland this week, the New Hampshire delegation has not put on a public display of party unity.

The state’s Kasich delegates are not staying at the official New Hampshire delegation hotel, opting instead for one downtown. Delegation Chairman Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager who is now a CNN political contributor, has not attended any of the group’s planned breakfast events.

On the convention floor, Trump delegates sit together, clumped around the New Hampshire sign. Non-Trump delegates sit together, across an aisle.

They all huddled together around the microphone Tuesday night, as cameras rolled and Lewandowski announced the state vote. Still, each whooped and cheered for their respective candidate.

“It is what it is. I won’t deny, it hurts,” said Tom Rath, who skipped out on a Scott Brown event to attend Kasich gatherings. Rath wouldn’t say whether he is getting behind Trump.

“I am not ready to do anything except get home tomorrow,” he said.

Other delegation members were just as cryptic.

“There’s certainly a better chance I will vote for Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton,” said Bruce Berke, a Kasich delegate.

Stevens won’t vote for Trump. She doesn’t like the “racist and sexist statements” he has made, she said, and he “has failed to present anything in terms of strategy on how he plans to implement policy.”

The Bedford mother is focusing her attention on down-ballot races. She hasn’t decided what to do come Election Day, whether to write someone in or simply leave the presidential bubble blank.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307, or on Twitter @amorrisNH.)

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