Story of the Year No. 1: N.H. Primary gives Trump his first major political win

  • Donald Trump speaks during the First in the Nation Summit in Nashua on Friday, April 17, 2015. ELIZABETH FRANTZ

  • Donald Trump makes a joke after filing papers to be in the nation’s earliest presidential primary in New Hampshire on Nov. 4, 2015, in Concord. Jim Cole / AP

  • Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump waves has he arrives for a campaign rally Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/David Goldman)Donald Trump waves to the crowd in Manchester as he arrives for a rally the day before the New Hampshire primary. Below: Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane, embrace at a primary victory party at Concord High School on Tuesday. David Goldman

Monitor staff
Published: 12/30/2016 11:53:47 PM

Donald Trump kept voters guessing when he showed up at the Crowne Plaza Nashua in mid-April 2015 for a cattle call along with 17 other GOP presidential contenders.

“I think I’m going to surprise a lot of people,” he said slyly, when asked whether he would launch a campaign for the White House.

Just two months later, the businessman ascended the escalator at Manhattan’s Trump Tower with wife Melania and declared he would “Make America great again,” the slogan he made famous during his unconventional presidential run.

In New Hampshire, Trump broke from the norm. During the primary campaign he ditched traditional retail stops at diners and small-town parades in favor of mega-rallies packed with thousands of supporters. He rarely took voter questions, and his campaign events often had the air of a rock concert.

For months, political pundits and Republican rivals dismissed Trump’s candidacy, while denouncing his controversial calls to ban Muslim immigrants and characterization of Mexican immigrants as “rapists.” But voters seized on Trump’s willingness to ignore “political correctness.”

“What he said, people are thinking, and people are afraid to say it,” Patty Selig, of Laconia, said of Trump’s views on immigration after she attended a June 2015 campaign event that drew more than 500 voters. “A lot of the other candidates were afraid to say it. And other Republican candidates are crucifying him because of what he said. But now, listening, it’s coming around and he brought it to the forefront. People are talking about it now, and they weren’t before, it was kind of pushed under the carpet. I think that’s important.”

The desire for an outsider helped propel Trump to victory in the state’s primary. He trounced the competition by double-digits in his first victory of the presidential nominating contest, a major win that helped to legitimize his campaign.

Trump continued to outperform his rivals, though his campaign was buffeted by scandal. He split ways with campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, after the Windham resident was charged with assaulting a female reporter. Lewandowski, who had no prior national campaign experience, had been a near constant presence on the campaign trail, standing nearby Trump while the candidate greeted people backstage before his rallies.

Under pressure to account for money he claimed to have raised for veterans at an Iowa fundraiser, Trump answered questions at a test press conference. New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro, an early Trump backer and campaign advisor, took to the microphone at one point to tell reporters “get your head out of your butt and focus on the real issues.”

Trump arrived at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland as some angry Republicans rallied to build a “never Trump” movement that never materialized. Trump secured the nomination, and focused his attentions on winning New Hampshire’s four electoral college votes. He regularly visited the state, even holding an unconventional “town hall” event days before a high-profile debate against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

But Granite State Republicans were mixed in their support. U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte called Trump a role model in a debate, but hours later backtracked, saying she misspoke. The Republican dropped support entirely in October, when a 2005 video surfaced that showed Trump boasting of groping women without consent.

Heading into the election, polls showed Clinton winning big. New Hampshire’s race was close and wasn’t called until the next day, long after Trump had been declared winner of the presidency. The Granite State results weren’t certified until roughly a week later, when the secretary of state announced Clinton narrowly defeated Trump.

Voters in New Hampshire said they picked Trump because he talked about restoring jobs and opposing trade deals he said hurt manufacturing.

“For all the years I didn’t vote, I didn’t think it would matter,” said James Dusash, who voted for the first time in 2016 and picked Trump. “I felt differently this year.”

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