Trump Makes Closing Argument in New Hampshire

Trump Makes Closing Argument in New Hampshire
AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Donald Trump campaigned at a packed and raucous arena here Monday night, rallying the same supporters who gave him his first political victory in the primary nine months ago, setting him on the path that ends Tuesday night with either a come-from-behind victory, or a third consecutive Republican presidential defeat that would leave the party's future in question.

It wasn’t Trump’s final event of the 2016 campaign -- he jetted off for a midnight rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., a state where he has consistently trailed in polls but claims he can win. In New Hampshire, Trump is in a dead heat with Clinton. The Granite State could provide her a critical Electoral College buffer in a tight election, or could give him a slight boost as he searches for a path to 270 Electoral College votes.

Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, whipped the crowd into a frenzy before Trump arrived, and the Republican nominee took the stage flanked by his family, Pence and the governor's family. Trump thanked his supporters, saying, “It all began for me in New Hampshire.” Once underway, he hit most of the points he’s been hammering home in the waning days of the campaign, where he’s been, for the most part, on message.

Trump said it’s time to “drain the swamp” in Washington and attacked his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, as beholden to special interests. When he called her corrupt and a criminal, his supporters answered with chants of “lock her up.” He knocked Clinton for campaigning with celebrities Beyonce, Jay-Z and Bruce Springsteen, calling it “demeaning to the political process,” and, as he has throughout the campaign, bragged about his ability to fill the arena with big crowds.

“Tomorrow we are going to win the great state of New Hampshire and we are going to take back the White House,” Trump said. “We are going to deliver historic, once-in-a-lifetime change.”

While Trump dedicated much of the rally to that closing argument, he also praised Granite Staters for their role in launching his political career. Trump’s first campaign event -- the day after he announced his bid with a dramatic escalator ride and speech at Trump Tower -- was here in Manchester, in front of several hundred people. At that event, he criticized Republican Party leaders, claimed the election wouldn’t be about personality, and said, “The American Dream is dead.”

Months later, after he surged to the top of polls and won the primary here, he promised supporters he’d be back often, and indeed, has campaigned in the state 10 times despite Clinton holding a safe, if not massive, lead in polls for months. But Trump has closed the lead in recent weeks as more Republicans come home to support him, and Clinton now holds just a narrow 0.3-percentage-point lead in New Hampshire in the RealClearPolitics average.

Trump’s appearance here on the eve of Election Day could also play an important role in his chances to carry the state. New Hampshire doesn’t allow early voting, and momentum and enthusiasm from supporters are keys to boost turnout. Ryan Williams, a former top aide to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, said Trump had a legitimate shot to carry the state, pointing out the lack of early voting and the fact that New Hampshire voters are mostly white, which means there is no large minority vote to boost Clinton.

Plus, Williams said Trump's return to New Hampshire one final time may have carried extra significance. Monday’s event was in the same arena where Romney held his final rally in 2012, and Williams said the choice for their campaign was symbolic because, like Trump, a primary win in the Granite State helped catapult Romney to the nomination.

“It sounds cliché, but that’s exactly right,” Williams said. “The campaign has come full circle. New Hampshire launched him into contention and now he’s closing his campaign.”

One longtime New Hampshire Republican said back when Trump won the state in February, he got calls from friends joking that it was evidence they didn’t deserve the coveted first-in-the-nation primary. The Republican source said he told those friends to be wary of doubting Trump’s appeal.

“He did a better job capturing [voter] frustration, and he steamrolled the more traditional primary opponents,” the Republican said. “I think it’s fitting he ends his campaign here. I think it’s a great honor.”

Outside the arena ahead of Trump’s rally, most of his supporters expressed confidence, pointing to the long lines and excited crowds as evidence that the enthusiasm was on their side for Tuesday.

“I’m feeling great. I’m definitely confident,” said Kristen Whitney, a community college teacher from Kingston, N.H. “By the looks of this line, how could you not? I think he’s got New Hampshire, definitely."

Christine McKenna, 39, a mental health counselor from Warner, N.H., admitted to feeling a bit nervous earlier Monday, but said the crowd outside the rally gave her renewed confidence. Unlike other supporters there, McKenna admitted she didn’t support Trump in the primary -- she voted for Marco Rubio -- but said she came around shortly before he won the nomination. 

“I was surprised after the primary. Now, no, I’m not,” McKenna said. “The further along that it gets, like I said before, he’s made some great points and I believe he’s passionate and truly believes in what he’s doing, as opposed to Hillary, who’s fake and superficial and willing to do whatever it takes to get elected, and that includes illegal activity."

For the most part, his supporters said that on his final night as a candidate, they wanted Trump to stick to the outsider, anti-establishment appeal that won him support in the first place. Most praised the campaign he had run, though some said he had made some unforced errors.

“He’s made a lot of mistakes,” said Cindy Goff, 54, from Manchester. “I think his tweets and a lot of things that he’s said -- not in the past, during the whole election -- I think might’ve hurt him a little bit.”

While most of his supporters expressed confidence in his ability to carry New Hampshire and win nationwide, some were a bit more on edge. Debbie Rabchenuk, a 64-year-old retiree from Nashua, N.H., said she had a headache from nerves ahead of Tuesday. But she, like others, said the large crowd gave her hope.

Jim Ellis, a 32-year-old salesman from Hampton, N.H., said he’s “never been so excited for any election in my entire life. I think there’s a lot of people around the same point as me, where they’ve never really been excited, never really thought that anybody would do something to make this country a better country.”

Ellis said he had wanted Trump to run back in 2012, when the business mogul flirted with a presidential bid but ultimately sat out the election. He said he immediately supported Trump when he launched his bid this year. He brushed off some of the controversies of Trump’s campaign and complained that Clinton would just be a continuation of the Obama administration. 

“For people that are fed up with the whole situation, people who are fed up with our government, I think this is a breath of fresh air and I think that’s the reason why [Trump] got so much traction,” Ellis said. “Hopefully people show up to the polls tomorrow and make their voices heard."

Trump had the same message for his crowd.

“Who is going to vote tomorrow morning, please?” Trump asked the crowd, to deafening cheers. “I promise you this: I will never, ever let you down. I promise you.”

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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