World / Politics

Trump returning to New Hampshire, the state that jump-started his 2016 bid

AP

President Donald Trump is returning Thursday to the state that gave him his first presidential primary victory, looking to once again demonstrate his popularity with New Hampshire’s Republican voters and likely take a few cracks at the many Democratic challengers striving to win the state’s affection.

The president is making the quick trip to Southern New Hampshire University as he spends the week at his New Jersey golf club. The event will give Trump a chance to address the heightened fears about the U.S. economy, fueled by a development in the bond market that has predicted previous recessions. Avoiding an economic slump is critical to Trump’s reelection hopes.

“I think that we’re going to have a tremendous time,” Trump said in a call-in interview on the “New Hampshire Today” radio show earlier Thursday. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Trump talked up the U.S. economy while acknowledging nervousness among investors. Stock indexes in the early afternoon had clawed back some of their steep losses from the previous day.

“We had a couple of bad days, but we’re going to have some very good days ’cause we had to take on China,” Trump said.

New Hampshire, which Trump lost by about 2,700 votes in the 2016 general election, is doing well economically, at least when using broad measures. But beneath the top-line data are clear signs that the prosperity is being unevenly shared, and when the tumult of the Trump presidency is added to the mix, the state’s flinty voters may not be receptive to his appeals.

An August University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll found that 42 percent of New Hampshire adults approve of Trump while 53 percent disapprove. The poll also showed that 49 percent approve of Trump’s handling of the economy and 44 percent disapprove.

Some Democratic presidential campaigns are holding events to capitalize on Trump’s trip. Joe Biden’s campaign will be setting up down the street from the arena to talk to voters and enlist volunteers. A group for Pete Buttigieg’s campaign will gather in nearby Concord to call voters about his support for new gun safety laws. And Cory Booker urged Trump to cancel the speech and instead urge Congress to take immediate action to prevent gun violence.

How New Hampshire receives the president on Thursday will offer a fresh test of whether voters will give credit to Trump for the state’s economy in 2020.

“I’m not sure any great tax policy that Trump has envisioned or created has helped it,” said Tom Rath, a longtime Republican National Convention delegate and former New Hampshire attorney general who backed Republican John Kasich for president in 2016. “I think the climate is good. We’re flourishing in large part because Massachusetts is flourishing.”

At 2.4 percent, New Hampshire’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for May was among the lowest in the nation. But wage growth is significantly below national gains. Average hourly earnings rose a scant 1.1 percent in New Hampshire in 2018, lagging the 3 percent gain nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In other ways, like the home ownership rate — first in the nation — and median household income — seventh in the U.S. — the state is thriving, according to census data.

New Hampshire’s four Electoral College votes are far below that of key swing states like Florida, Wisconsin and Michigan, but its influence can prove powerful in close election years like 2000, when George W. Bush’s victory in the state gave him the edge needed to win the White House.

David Bates, a 26-year-old construction worker, said there has been “remarkable growth under President Trump.” And when it comes to that growth, Trump should “at least partially, definitely,” get credit, he said.

And Robert Burrows, a 34-year-old tire technician, sees a raise and a competing job offer as evidence that the “awesome” economy has helped him.

“Trump isn’t somebody I’d want to marry to my sister or my mother,” said Burrows, who originally supported Republican Ben Carson in 2016. “However, that’s not what I want him in office for.”

Others feel the economic boasting that is often a trademark of Trump and his allies is undeserved.

“I don’t see where he’s helped me,” Gary West, a 71-year-old retired steel fabricator who now works as a school bus driver. “Maybe the guy that’s got a million dollars he’s helped. But I don’t feel like he’s helped me at all.”

Gino Brogna, a 57-year-old chef manager, described himself as a Republican “by nature,” though he isn’t “solely stuck to it.” He didn’t like Democrat Hillary Clinton and recalls feeling as though his 2016 vote for Trump was “something that was necessary.”

It doesn’t feel necessary for him again.

“I don’t think that he’s true to his word on a lot of things,” Brogna said. “I wouldn’t vote for him again. That’s not going to happen.”