Sununu: It’s imperative for those attending Trump rally to wear masks

  • President Donald Trump greets visitors as he walks the lawn of the White House during a “Salute to America” event, July 4. AP

Published: 7/6/2020 3:17:43 PM

If Governor Chris Sununu greets President Donald Trump at the airport this weekend as he has done in the past, he says he’ll be wearing a mask.

Trump is due in the Granite State on Saturday for an outdoor rally in Portsmouth.

On Monday, Sununu urged anyone attending the rally to wear a mask, while promising to wear one himself if he is around the president.

“As Governor I will always welcome the President of the United States to New Hampshire,” Sununu said in a statement. “I am pleased to see the campaign will be handing out face masks and hand sanitizer to all attendees, as has been true at all public gatherings in N.H. where social distancing is hard to maintain. It is imperative that folks attending the rally wear masks.”

Sununu’s administration said it has not stopped any groups from holding rallies in the state, including marches led by Black Lives Matter and protests from Reopen NH.

Trump’s rally at Portsmouth International Airport will come three weeks after an indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the president’s first of the COVID-19 era, which drew a smaller-than-expected crowd amid concerns of rising infections in the region.

The Trump campaign’s announcement of the Portsmouth rally noted that “there will be ample access to hand sanitizer and all attendees will be provided a face mask that they are strongly encouraged to wear.” Many people at Trump’s rally in Tulsa skipped wearing masks, and relatively few masks were seen during his speech at South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore last Friday.

Public health officials are cautioning against holding large gatherings as the virus continues to spread throughout much of the country, but they believe outdoor congregations are relatively less risky than indoor gatherings. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said last week that Trump may more frequently opt to turn to outdoor venues to host his campaign speeches.

“We need to understand it’s a new world in terms of there are many people who support the president ... who are not going to another rally,” Conway said. “It’s high risk, low reward for them, because they already support him.”

Trump and his campaign have hyped his formal return to the campaign trail beginning with last month’s Tulsa rally, which ultimately ended in a disappointing turnout and an outbreak of the virus among staff and Secret Service agents.

Separately, a top Trump campaign fundraiser, Kimberly Guilfoyle, tested positive for coronavirus ahead of the president’s speech at Mount Rushmore. Guilfoyle, who is the girlfriend of Trump’s eldest child, Donald Trump Jr., had traveled separately from the president to South Dakota but did not attend the event.

State Sen. Dan Feltes, a Concord Democrat who is running for governor, criticized Sununu for not making masks mandatory at the Portsmouth rally.

“Governor Sununu is trying to have it both ways and catering to the Trump campaign,” Feltes said in a statement. “If Sununu actually cared about public health he would issue a public health order like he did for NASCAR. Governor Sununu should do what's right and issue the order to protect public health and save lives.” 

The president was narrowly defeated in 2016 in New Hampshire by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Before the pandemic, campaign officials had pointed to the state, in addition to Minnesota and New Mexico, as a place where they saw a chance to expand the electoral map.

“Trump’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been chaotic and woefully inadequate, resulting in thousands of Granite Staters contracting the virus and hundreds of lives lost, while causing significant damage to our state’s economy,” New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said after the rally was announced. “Instead of helping our state safely recover, Trump is flying in for a political rally that will only further highlight the chaos he has caused.”

Trump’s campaign plans to continue making frequent official visits to battleground states, where he is expected to continue to highlight his administration’s response to the pandemic and efforts to reboot the nation’s economy. Those smaller events don’t replicate for Trump or his supporters the energy of his roaring arena rallies, but they are often paid for by taxpayers and still feature political broadsides at Democrats.

Trump held two in-person fundraisers in early June. Subsequent events have yet to be scheduled, but aides insisted there was “pent-up demand” for high-dollar events featuring the president that have been postponed due to the outbreak.

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