Trump campaign makes full-court press in battleground New Hampshire

It's game on in the smallest of the crucial battleground states

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PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -  Vice President Mike Pence is headed to New Hampshire next week, President Trump’s re-election campaign announced on Thursday.

The high-profile visit by the president’s running mate to this crucial general election battleground state comes just over three weeks after Trump energized supporters in the Granite State – where the most recent poll indicated Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden holding a slight three-point edge over the president.

“It keeps our base energized and gets the president’s message out,” Trump campaign New Hampshire co-chair Fred Doucette told Fox News.

But the mission of Pence’s trip – and those of the president and other well-known surrogates – is much more than just keeping the base energized, and it’s much more than about nostalgia in a state that boosted Trump toward the presidency.

Then-candidate Donald Trump crushed a large field of GOP rivals by double digits in New Hampshire’s February 2016 Republican presidential primary.

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“I want to thank New Hampshire. You were my first victory,” Trump highlighted during his most recent trip to the Granite State.

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, in Londonderry, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, in Londonderry, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

But Trump ended up narrowly losing New Hampshire – by fewer than 3,000 votes – to 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the general election. Now, with the president facing the challenging prospect of holding on to key battleground states he flipped from blue to red four years ago – such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – he and his campaign are eyeing New Hampshire, as well as Minnesota and Nevada, two other states Clinton narrowly carried in 2016.

The strategy is far from new.

Trump re-election campaign manager Bill Stepien said in the spring of last year – when he was a senior adviser to the campaign – that “we’re casting a wide net and looking for opportunities to grow the map.”

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Stepien’s comments came as the campaign was starting to build their ground game in the key states.

“We were the first ones in the country to have paid staff on the ground through the Trump Victory campaign, so the president’s taking New Hampshire very seriously,” Doucette touted.

But as the 2020 presidential campaign hits the final stretch coming out of the Democratic and Republican national political conventions, the Trump campaign’s plan kicked into high gear.

The president chose New Hampshire as his first stop on the campaign trail following the Republican National Convention.

At an August 28 rally in a hangar at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, Trump told his supporters that “you are going to lead a nation to the most important victory and the most important election that we’ve ever had.”

The vice president’s nephew John Pence – a senior campaign adviser – this week spent two days in New Hampshire revving up staff and volunteers.

Eric Trump, the middle son of the president, headlines a campaign event at a Trump re-election field office in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Sept. 17, 2020

Eric Trump, the middle son of the president, headlines a campaign event at a Trump re-election field office in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Sept. 17, 2020

On Thursday the president’s son Eric made a stop at a campaign field office in Portsmouth. At the same time, first lady Melania Trump made a surprise stop in the state – on an official trip to mark her "Be Best" public awareness campaign to observe "Recovery Month."

The former vice president's wife, Jill Biden, and Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris of California – made multiple stops in New Hampshire on Wednesday.

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But neither Biden nor his running mate has visited the state since the start of the general election campaign.

New Hampshire GOP chair Steve Stepanek didn’t miss an opportunity to point out the lack of a visit so far by either member of the national Democratic ticket.

“We are 48 days out from the election and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have still not stepped foot in the Granite State since their disastrous First-in-the-Nation primary campaigns,” Stepanek spotlighted on Wednesday.

But longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley countered that “there is no evidence that having either Donald Trump or Mike Pence show up anywhere has had any impact on any election at any time since their inauguration.”

Buckley acknowledged that “we’d love to have them,” but he emphasized that “the reality is we’re going to win New Hampshire because of the issues, not because of who’s visited New Hampshire.”

And taking aim at the president and his campaign, Buckley charged that “I’ve never seen a campaign so devoid of issues, of proposals, of a plan of what they would do in the coming years and that’s what you’re hearing on the Democratic side.”

While high-profile visits don’t hurt, they don't match a powerful ground game.

Doucette highlighted that the Trump campaign “should have by the end of next week nine regional offices through the state and more than 40 staffers on the ground.”

And he showcased that the campaign’s contacted 1 million people in the state – through phone calls or traditional door knocks.

Earlier this summer, the Trump campaign in New Hampshire and across the country resumed in-person canvassing and grassroots outreach – after suspending such traditional organizing steps earlier in the year as the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation.

The Democrats have recent history on their side. They outclased the Republicans in the 2018 elections, as the party retained both congressional seats and won back majorities in both chambers of the state legislature and the 5-member Executive Council.

Fast forward to present day - and the state Democratic Party and the Biden campaign – amid a pandemic that’s claimed nearly 200,000 lives in this country – are relying on telephone and virtual outreach.

That didn't dampen turnout in this month's state primary, when more voters cast Democratic rather than GOP ballots for a second straight primary.

“People in New Hampshire are used to being face to face with their candidates and having that contact. Whether that contact is social distanced, I think it’s important to voters in the Granite State, because that’s what we’re used to. We’re used to personal interaction,” Doucette told Fox News. “Right now we have to do that at a level that keeps us safe because of the COVID virus.

“I think lacking that, you’re missing the mark,” he stressed.

But Buckley stressed that “we understand that we are in a worldwide pandemic and that we are not going to follow their lead of being COVID spreaders.”

The New Hampshire Democratic Party touted in a video this week that they’ve held over 12,000 grassroots events and made and sent over a million calls and texts the past four months.

“We’ve already surpassed them in actual direct voter contact, with our volunteers talking to actual voters on their phones,” Buckley spotlighted. “Of the over 1 million calls that have occurred, not one person said ‘Gee, I wish [you] had come by my house.’”

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And he charged that “it’s really regretful how much Trump and his behavior has infected the entire Republican Party from top to bottom.”

We’ll find out in November which party’s outreach was more successful.