By Paul Steinhauser
Published May 17, 2019
The national spotlight is coming this weekend to this small city on the western edge of the first-in-the-nation primary state.
Claremont, New Hampshire, a one-time mill community along the Vermont border, is the site of Sunday’s Fox News town hall with Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
The city with a picturesque downtown had fallen on hard times but has seen a steady recovery in recent decades. It also was a reliable Democratic stronghold in presidential elections for years -- but went for President Trump in 2016. The community is likely to see plenty of political foot traffic as the next election nears.
"There is much about resiliency and perseverance that candidates can learn from engaging with people in Claremont," said four-term Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster, who represents New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District.
Although the mills along the Sugar River started shutting in the 1940s, it wasn’t until the city’s mainstay employer – a machine tools manufacturer – closed down in the 1980s that the decline accelerated. The city’s population shrunk from some 20,000 down to 13,000.
“It’s been a slow recovery,” Claremont resident and fireman Brian Rapp explained.
Rapp, the current treasurer of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, highlighted that “steady investment and redevelopment in the area” was instrumental in reviving the community.
Shops, restaurants, a community college and service businesses now occupy once-empty storefronts and mill buildings.
“As a former mill town, Claremont has done tremendous work to reinvent itself by looking forward and investing in its future,” Kuster said. “Like any community, Claremont has its challenges but as a town Claremont has come together to expand economic opportunity.”
The city in recent decades was a stronghold for Democrats in the race for the White House. Former President Barack Obama captured Claremont by around 1,200 votes in his 2008 presidential victory and his 2012 re-election.
But Trump carried the city by 151 votes over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, becoming the first GOP candidate to win Claremont since 1988.
“Voter turnout in Claremont for the 2016 general election was excellent at nearly 80 percent,” Republican Mayor Charlene Lovett explained. “There is no doubt that the 2016 general election energized the people in Claremont to get out and vote. We hope people will be similarly energized in 2020.”
Rapp pointed to anger as the motivating factor for the high turnout in 2016.
“There were a lot of angry people. I think Trump was able to connect with a lot of anger and I think that’s what we saw in the election,” he highlighted.
During the primaries, Trump also won the city in a landslide over the rest of a crowded GOP primary field. And independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont crushed Clinton by more than a two-to-one margin in the Democratic primary.
One month before the 2016 primary, Trump held a large and loud rally at Claremont’s Stevens High School, which is the site of Sunday’s Fox News town hall.
Rapp, a former school board chair who says he'd like to know more about Buttigieg's stance on education funding, is looking forward to the event:
“It’s a national stage. I think Claremont’s ready for it.”