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New Hampshire voters seeing two choices: Trump, or not Trump

Pence gets a look, defends decision to certify electors on Jan. 6

Supporters applaud former President Donald Trump as he speaks at Windham High School in Windham, N.H., on Tuesday.
Supporters applaud former President Donald Trump as he speaks at Windham High School in Windham, N.H., on Tuesday. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

LONDONDERRY, N.H. — New Hampshire Republicans seem to be in two camps as presidential candidates flock to the early voting state. There are those set on former President Donald Trump, and those looking for another option. 

Trump, who led his closest rival in New Hampshire by 24 points in the latest Real Clear Politics polling average, is campaigning with his trademark rallies, while other candidates are holding more traditional town halls, roundtables and meet-and-greets. 

The day after Trump’s latest indictment highlighted former Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to go along with what prosecutors said was a criminal conspiracy to overturn President Joe Biden’s win in 2020, Pence held a town hall here on Friday.

Pence, whose polling average is 1.7 percentage points, or 40 points behind Trump’s, faced questions on topics ranging from Social Security to China and Supreme Court ethics. He was also asked about his role in certifying electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021, an action that the indictment said led Trump to criticize him for being too honest. 

Pence defended his role and played up the honesty line, telling an attendee at the event who asked about ethics rules for Supreme Court justices that he would always be candid in his answers and that he’d “been called ‘too honest’ before.” But he also cautioned against lumping all of Trump’s supporters into the violent group that stormed the Capitol.

“There is a lot of passion out there, but I reject your suggestion that passion is translated into the violence and the vandalism of that day,” he said. “I know the people in this movement, whether they support me or not, are the best people in this country.”

Some Trump supporters came to Pence’s event, and one asked him about American support for the war in Ukraine, an issue that splits some members of the Republican Party. 

Pence spoke about his record serving in the Trump administration and previously in the House and told reporters he hoped that Trump participates in the Aug. 23 debate in Milwaukee that Pence qualified to be part of this week. Trump hasn’t committed to attending, and at his own New Hampshire campaign event he asked the crowd whether he should attend despite his lead in the polls. 

“Sometimes people ask me what it would be like to debate Donald Trump. I tell people I’ve debated Donald Trump a thousand times, never with the cameras on,” Pence said. 

Some voters were curious and open to supporting Pence, even if they weren’t sold yet. 

“I really do not want to see Trump-Biden again,” said David Booth, a Londonderry resident who attended Pence’s town hall last week. “So part of how this will play out for me is I’m going to vote for the non-Trump candidate who has the best shot at winning.”

Who that is is “hard to know,” but he said he would consider voting for Pence if he felt he fit that role. Booth said he voted for Trump in 2020 after he exceeded his expectations during his first term and because Booth didn’t support Biden. But he hasn’t yet found who he expects to support next year.

“I think the candidates have largely been disappointing,” he said, noting that he’d had higher expectations for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose polling average puts him as No. 2 in the GOP field. “None of them wow me.”

Some people were still making up their mind on whether to vote for Trump. Matt Coombes, a Nashua resident who went to see Pence, said he was on the fence about the former president and that some people he knew were concerned about his age.

Uncertainty was not a problem for Granite Staters who went to a Trump rally in neighboring Windham a few days later. Michelle Bedard, who attended Trump’s rally Tuesday with her son Max, said she was set on the former president. 

“There was no question in my mind who was getting my vote this time. I don’t care who runs,” she said. 

Bedard said the indictments of Trump were a nonissue for her.

“I think it’s all garbage. I really do,” she said. “They’ve been going after him. I don’t know what keeps him going, but they’ve been going after him for years. And I really believe that they go after him because he can’t be bought.”

Trump on Tuesday acknowledged that the indictments could keep him away from rallies in the months ahead of the election. 

“How can my corrupt political opponent, crooked Joe Biden, put me on trial during an election campaign that I am winning by a lot, but forcing me nevertheless to spend time and money away from the campaign trail in order to fight bogus, made-up accusations and charges?” he said. “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to go to Iowa today. I won’t be able to go to New Hampshire today because I’m sitting in a courtroom on bulls— because his attorney general charged me with something.”

Chuck Morse, the former state Senate president and a candidate for governor who attended Trump’s rally in Windham but hasn’t endorsed a candidate, said he thinks a portion of GOP voters in the state are committed to Trump, while others are still learning about the other candidates.

“You’ve got a great portion that support Trump and you’ve got what typically happens in New Hampshire, you’ve got a lot of people out there listening,” he said. “When they say [they need to meet a candidate] eight times, they do. I mean everywhere I go, I see the same people.”

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