LONDONDERRY, N.H. — President Trump painted a dark picture of America’s future under a Joe Biden presidency during his first rally of the general election here Friday evening, promising a raucous and largely unmasked crowd that he would restore law and order in “Democrat-run cities” he described as spiraling out of control.
He returned to some of his favorite themes, accusing the media of stoking racial hatred, blaming China for supposedly planting the coronavirus, and describing himself as an outsider intent on taking down establishment politicians.
“We are all that stand between the American people and the left-wing mob,” Trump said to cheers.
The president’s appearance in an airport hangar at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport came a day after his official acceptance of the Republican nomination, at a moment when he is trying to keep attention on his message in a reelection campaign that lags in polls.
From the start, the crowd’s energy was palpable. Multiple times, they broke into shouts of “Four more years!” and “USA!”
Trump — who slipped slightly as he made his way to the stage — wasted little time before attacking Biden, whom the crowd vigorously booed. He insulted the Democratic nominee as old and slow, a career politician whose “masters” control him.
Of vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, he said: “I want to see the first woman president also, but I don’t want to see a woman president get into that position the way she’s doing it. She’s not competent.” The crowd shouted its approval.
“They’re saying, ‘We want Ivanka,’” Trump said.
The president scorned the recent protests over police brutality and white supremacy that have swept the country, trying to write them off as the work of “agitators” and saying he’d directed Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, to study how he might call troops into the nation’s capital.
“We’re not supposed to go in unless we call it an insurrection,” Trump said. “We’re going to have to look at it because we’re not going to let that happen to people that go to the White House to celebrate our country.”
Afterward, those in attendance praised the president for what they described as a high-energy speech in which he didn’t hold back.
“I love the enthusiasm,” said Peggy MacPherson of Auburn, who had arrived at 3 p.m. Friday but wasn’t able to get a seat inside and instead watched from a large outdoor screen. “I love the way he comes out no-hold-barred.”
Kimberly Cantrell, a paralegal from Londonderry who estimated that Friday was the fourth Trump rally she’d attended, likened the event to a family get-together.
“It’s refreshing not to feel that you have to shelter your beliefs,” Cantrell said following Trump’s speech. “It’s fun, everybody has a good time, we have good laughs.”
Pointing to the Trump sign she was holding, she said she’s too afraid to display it in her car — she worries someone would break her window.
“Here, I feel like I can breathe,” she said.
Biden, who consistently leads New Hampshire polls in the high single digits over Trump, hasn’t set foot in the state since he placed fifth in the presidential primary in February and he has announced no plans to return. Both candidates’ campaign schedules are expected to pick up in the coming weeks, with Biden announcing Thursday that he will soon resume limited travel.
Before Trump arrived, hundreds of supporters lined up to see him speak, and the venue reached capacity in the late afternoon. When an announcement came across the loudspeaker reminding those in the audience to wear masks in accordance with state law, many booed.
For much of the day, organizers were taking attendees’ temperatures and offering free mini bottles of hand sanitizer to everyone. But most people milling about the paved lot were not wearing masks or had positioned them under their chin.
Clad in Trump-branded shoes, socks, and pins, Edward X. Young traveled from New Jersey — more than 300 miles away — to attend his 32nd Trump rally. He arrived Thursday night and slept in a folding chair through the rain and cold.
“Even if there was a hurricane, we would strap ourselves to a lamppost to hear him speak,” Young said.
At the convention this week, Trump and his allies painted a frightening portrait of a country under siege from the left.
But the convention was also sometimes overshadowed by breaking news elsewhere, including growing protests over the shooting of a Black man by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wis., and a major hurricane bearing down on the Gulf Coast. Now, with the convention behind him, Trump attempted to continue amplifying the message he’d delivered there.
New Hampshire has long held his interest. It is both the place that gave him his first-ever election victory in the 2016 primary and his narrowest loss in the general election, by just 2,700 votes. His campaign had planned a rally in Portsmouth in July, but abruptly canceled it the day before, citing a tropical storm that was not forecast to affect the area during his speaking time. That rally had garnered unfavorable attention, with public health and elected officials urging Governor Chris Sununu to require masks, fearing that a large gathering could spread COVID-19.
The coronavirus has largely prevented the president from holding his rallies this campaign season.
Biden has steered clear of large events, speaking with supporters virtually or at small, in-person gatherings instead.
In a statement ahead of the New Hampshire event, Biden said, “Today, Donald Trump is bringing his message of division, lies, and chaos to New Hampshire, while Granite Staters suffer because of the president’s failure to lead when our nation needed it most.”
For two decades, New Hampshire has been a hotly contested presidential swing state. Candidates and surrogates held events nearly every week in the home stretch of the campaign. This year, larger states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania have drawn more attention as the places most likely to determine who wins the Electoral College and the White House.
But Trump is competing hard here, and he made sure to show New Hampshire love on Friday night, shouting the state motto, “Live Free or Die,” to wild applause.
“Manchester,” the president told the crowd, “we have some good memories in Manchester, right?”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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