N.H. GOP leaders call for party unity behind Trump at annual meeting

  • Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads from a list of donations to veteran's groups, during a news conference in New York, Tuesday, May 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) Richard Drew

Monitor staff
Published: 6/4/2016 11:54:19 PM

Before the Pledge of Allegiance was recited at Saturday’s New Hampshire Republican State Committee meeting, N.H. state representative and longtime Trump supporter Steve Stepanek took the microphone, urging his fellow GOP voters to put aside differences and back presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“We need everybody behind Donald Trump, we need everybody behind the ticket,” Stepanek said. “Let’s turn N.H. into a totally red state in November. Go Donald Trump, go Republican party.”

After months of speculation about a potentially contested GOP convention, Trump recently came out on top, clinching the delegates needed to secure the nomination last week. Throughout it all, New Hampshire Republicans have had mixed reactions, with some gingerly agreeing to support the nominee and others vowing, “never Trump.”

Though some still expressed doubts about Trump on Saturday, the message of the meeting was clear: it was time to put party unity over personal beliefs.

“Hillary Clinton must never become president of our great nation,” said N.H. GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Horn. Democrats “believe they can pit us against each other and destroy our efforts, but they are wrong. Republicans are going to win, we are going to stand together just as we have always done and we are going to win.”

Londonderry state Rep. and longtime Trump supporter Al Baldasaro said the speed with which New Hampshire Republicans have come around to his candidate is a surprise.

“It’s been unbelievable. It’s been moving pretty fast for sure,” he said. “People were saying it’s something that would never happen.”

Baldasaro said he was especially surprised by Horn’s recent support.

“She’s finally come around to unite the party,” Baldasaro said. “It’s a win-win to see the Republicans coming together.”

This winter, Horn criticized the tone of Trump’s campaign after he called for a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the United States.

“Shallow campaigns that depend on bombast and divisive rhetoric do not succeed in New Hampshire, and I don’t expect that they will now,” Horn told the Boston Globe in an November interview. Soon after, Stepanek called for her to resign as chairwoman after the comments, saying they showed a bias against Trump.

At Saturday’s meeting, Horn only mentioned Trump’s name once, saying, “I’m pretty confident Donald Trump is not going to let Hillary Clinton get away with her lies.”

Other members of the state’s GOP committee also urged voters to look past their differences and come together for a unified ticket.

N.H. GOP vice-chairman Matt Mayberry donned a Trump T-shirt and asked his fellow Republicans to invite Trump’s New Hampshire campaign to political events around the state.

“We have to unite this ticket; we cannot be divided,” Mayberry said.

Juliana Bergeron, New Hampshire’s national committeewoman to the Republican National Committee, had a similar message.

“Forty years ago, I started out as a Goldwater girl,” she said, adding she stood in front of voters Saturday as a “Trump girl.”

“At the end of the day, I strive to be a unifier by example, working hand in hand every day with every GOP primary winner,” Bergeron said.

Bergeron narrowly kept her position as national committeewoman, after a surprise challenge from Republican activist Sharon Osborne of Auburn, who decided to run for the seat a few days earlier.

Bergeron beat Osborne by just two votes on a ballot vote of 124-122.

While unity was the theme of the day, some were more hesitant to fully embrace Trump.

“I go all the way back to Harry Truman, and I have never seen a candidate like this,” said Nashua state Rep. Donald Lebrun, who supported New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the primary. “He claims to be a Republican . . . and I will vote for a Republican.”

Even though he will check the box next to Trump’s name come November, Lebrun said he disagrees with the candidate’s behavior so far, calling it “immature.”

“I think he’s acting very juvenile,” he said. “I think he has to present himself as a viable candidate and conduct himself with a little more maturity.”

And while others at the state committee meeting said they were optimistic about the state’s Republican ticket doing well, Lebrun said he’s worried about Trump’s effect on other candidates, including U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

“I don’t think it’s a good impression of the overall Republican party,” he said.

Still, Lebrun was clear; whatever his disagreements with Trump, he would vote for him over Hillary Clinton any day.

“The woman’s a criminal,” he said.

Osborne, a self-described conservative, said she supports Trump and especially likes his positions on economic issues and cutting regulations. But on social issues, Trump is known for taking a more moderate stance, praising Planned Parenthood and saying transgender people should be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice.

Osborne said she’s waiting to see what happens, should Trump land in the Oval Office.

“We’ll find out once he’s elected,” she said, adding she’s far more concerned with keeping another Democrat out of the White House.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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