MANCHESTER, N.H. – President Trump has a message for New Hampshire Republicans ahead of his visit Thursday: “Corey’s an outstanding guy. If he ran and won, he would be a great senator.”
The Corey the president is referring to is Corey Lewandowski, who managed Trump’s presidential campaign from its start in 2015 through the 2016 primaries and who remains a close outside adviser to the president. The New Hampshire resident and Washington, D.C., consultant and lobbyist generated buzz a couple of weeks ago when he said he was seriously considering a 2020 run for the U.S Senate in his home state.
“I think he would be fantastic. He’s got great energy. He’s terrific on television. He’s a really good guy,” Trump emphasized in his interview on "New Hampshire Today with Jack Heath," a popular center-right talk radio program in the Granite State.
Lewandowski argued last week in an interview with Fox News that his ability to fundraise -- thanks to his close relationship with President Trump -- would make him the most formidable Republican to face off next year against two-term Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, if he ran.
“If I decide to get into this race, I think you’ll see my fundraising prowess come to fruition very quickly,” Lewandowski highlighted.
In the interview Thursday, Trump said, “I haven’t heard that he's running yet. I know he’s considering it. If he ran, I think he’d be No. 1. I think he’d be hard to beat in New Hampshire.”
The president’s radio interview came hours before he returns to New Hampshire to hold his first campaign event in the state since the eve of the 2016 election. Trump narrowly lost the crucial battleground state to Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election by less than 3,000 votes.
Energizing his base of voters is job No. 1 for Trump during his New Hampshire stop. But what will be more revealing is what he says about Lewandowski, who will be with the president at the rally at the Southern New Hampshire University Arena in Manchester, the state’s largest venue.
“I would fully expect that the president would say he has no greater ally than Corey Lewandowski, because that is true, and that he would look forward to having Corey run for the Senate,” said David Bossie, the longtime president and chairman of the conservative advocacy group Citizens United and a Fox News contributor.
Bossie, a close outsider adviser to the president who served as deputy campaign manager of Trump’s 2016 White House bid, is also close with Lewandowski.
“Obviously an endorsement by the president, if he (Lewandowski) was to get in the race, would make him, in my opinion, unbeatable in the primary,” he told Fox News.
Bossie released a poll on Tuesday indicating that Lewandowski would become the front-runner in the race – over the three other declared or likely Republican candidates – if he were to run – and that the president’s support would only enhance his front-runner status. Trump – whose approval rating is underwater in the state – remains very popular with most Granite State Republicans. His approval rating stood at 82 percent among Republicans in a University of New Hampshire poll released this week.
Lewandowski told Fox News last week “that if I were to run, I don’t think somebody else could be the Trump guy in New Hampshire.”
And Bossie spotlighted that “we believe that a Lewandowski candidacy gives Jeanne Shaheen fits for the general election and it makes the Democratic senatorial committee have to commit to that race and spend money there when they weren’t necessarily thinking they would need to.”
“The combination of President Trump at the top of the ticket married up with a Lewandowski candidacy is the opposite of what (GOP incumbent Sen.) Kelly Ayotte did in 2016, which is she distanced herself from then-candidate Trump and lost and didn’t have the enthusiasm of the Republican Party base and lost very narrowly,” Bossie said. “It really gives Republicans an opportunity to pick up a seat in New Hampshire and make it very competitive for the president.”
But some Granite State Republicans don’t see it that way.
Former Sen. Judd Gregg – who also served as governor – made headlines a week ago by calling Lewandowski “a thug.”
“He’s part of Trump’s cadre of thugs. If he were to run and become the nominee, it would be an outrage,” he told TV station WMUR.
Lewandowski returned fire, blasting Gregg as part of a group of “career politicians” that damaged the country and fueled Trump’s White House victory.
But Lewandowski, like Trump, has a well-known reputation as a very controversial and polarizing figure.
Longtime New Hampshire-based Republican consultant David Carney argued that a Lewandowski Senate run is “a terrible idea.”
Carney -- a veteran of numerous presidential, Senate and gubernatorial campaigns -- argued that “Corey’s a political hack. I’m a political hack. Believe me, political hacks make terrible candidates.”
“He has nothing to offer beyond his political activism. That is not a selling point. People hate politics. It is a terrible idea. It will hurt the president’s reelection in New Hampshire if we get saddled with Corey because he doesn’t bring anything to the table. He’s riding on the president coattails,” he said.
The last two Senate elections in New Hampshire have been razor-thin – with Shaheen narrowly defeating former GOP Sen. Scott Brown in 2014 and then-Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan defeating Ayotte by just 1,017 votes in 2016.
In 2020, national Republicans view New Hampshire as one of the few places they may be able to go on the offense as they mostly work to defend their 53-47 majority in the Senate.
But defeating Shaheen – a popular former governor – won’t be easy – as she’s already built a formidable campaign war chest ahead of next year’s election.
Carney claimed that, “Corey doesn’t bring a single new voter who doesn’t already vote for the president and it’s beyond belief that someone’s ego could be so big that they think somehow they’re going to turn out Trump voters better than Donald Trump. Nobody is going to do that. It’s not a midterm. The president’s on the top of the ticket.”
And he and other GOP strategists say a Lewandowski candidacy could complicate matters up and down the ballot, including for popular Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who is running next year for a third two-year term steering the state.
But another longtime Republican consultant in New Hampshire disagrees.
Mike Biundo, a top adviser for former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania in 2012 and Sen. Rand Paul and then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the 2016 primaries, tweeted that Lewandowski “changes the dynamics, attention & energy around this Senate race.”
Biundo – who joined the Trump campaign for the 2016 general election -- said, “I have known him for over 20 yrs, I believe he would be all in if he ran, he would understand the importance of grassroots, & would be able to raise the significant national money.”
A day after Bossie released his survey, the campaign of Republican candidate and retired Army Brigadier Gen. Don Bolduc released its own internal poll, which suggested Lewandowski and Bolduc tied. The Bolduc team shared their numbers with the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
If Lewandowski does run, he expressed hope that he would clear the primary field.
“What I would prefer,” he said, “is to have one unified candidate who has the opportunity to run a longer campaign to focus directly on the general election….for the good of goal of defeating Jeanne Shaheen.”
But neither Bolduc or former state House of Representatives Speaker Bill O’Brien, the other declared Republican candidate in the race, say they have any intention of quitting.
“No. It’s not changing my mind one bit,” Bolduc told Fox News on Monday. “I will not get out of the race.”