New Hampshire is the state where many candidates for the presidency first make their mark. Donald Trump did just that with his blow-out victory in the state’s GOP primary last February. Now he’s trying to use the Granite State as a stepping-stone to the White House
But he faces strong opposition, and not just from Hillary Clinton. Much of the state’s GOP remains hostile to his candidacy.
Republican leaders have watched New Hampshire go from Red to Purple to near-Blue in recent years. Many say they worry that Trump’s a threat to the party’s future. One GOP leader recently went so far as to describe Trump as “mentally ill.”
At a Trump rally in Manchester last month, not one member of the state’s Republican elite showed up. Even Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who has struggled over how to position herself vis-à-vis Trump in her own race for re-election, boycotted the event.
It was left to one largely unknown GOP congressman to wave the party flag.
But in a pattern seen across the nation the Republican rank-and-file takes a vastly different view. They love Trump, warts and all, and are planning to turn out in record numbers on November 8th.
And it’s not just Republicans. In the most recent WBUR-TV poll, Trump led Clinton 46%-37% among independents, a sector that comprises an unusually large share of the state electorate — about 40%
New Hampshire both is – and isn’t – prime Trump territory. Voters care little about immigration but they love outspoken firebrands like Trump and his free market anti-regulatory message resonates in a state whose motto is “Live Free or Die.”
Trump also has a strong personal and business ties in New Hampshire that may be offsetting his lack of state GOP support.
And New Hampshire’s popular former GOP governor, John Sununu, still a huge fixture in Republican circles, recently decided to endorse Trump after keeping his distance for months.
But the biggest reason Trump’s so competitive is demographic: He has a strong following among men, especially older men and men without a college degree. In the most recent poll, Trump led Clinton by 12 points among men under 45, but had a whopping 24 point lead among men 45 and older, compared to Clinton’s 15-point lead among women over 45.
Older voters still feel the effects of economic insecurity in a state that has been relatively well- cushioned from the effects of the 2008 recession. And Trump has managed to seize upon New Hampshire’s heroin epidemic, which has hit young men the hardest, as a symbol of its uncertain future.
While he still trails Clinton by 4 points in the latest Real Clear polling average, he’s cut her lead from 7 to 3 in a string of recent polls.
Democrats are well aware of New Hampshire’s significance in a close election, and they’re hoping to exploit Trump’s potential vulnerability among women. The current governor, Maggie Hassan, is a Democrat, and so was her predecessor. And both of the state’s senators are women.
Not surprisingly, when First Lady Michelle Obama swung through Manchester recently, she used her appearance to lambaste Trump, saying his behavior and remarks were “deeply offensive” to women.
But thus far there’s no evidence of significant polling movement away from the GOP leader. In fact, while some Republican women may well cross over to support Clinton, Trump is still likely to benefit from crossover support from Democratic men.
And there’s another big danger sign for Democrats: Among undecided voters, more than twice as many are leaning toward Trump as are likely to support Clinton, according to recent polls. That edge could well prove decisive on Election Day.
One scenario has Trump winning the traditional battleground states of Florida and Ohio and adding North Carolina, which went for Mitt Romney in 2012. But he’d still need breakthroughs in several smaller states, including Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire, to eke out a win.
Currently, Trump has a steady single-digit lead over Clinton in Iowa and trails just slightly in Nevada. If he ends up winning both states, he would have 266 electoral votes, even if he loses Pennsylvania and Virginia.
But with New Hampshire’s four, he gets to 270 – and a ticket to the White House.