LONDONDERRY, N.H. — Nine days before the election, President Trump rallied supporters in New Hampshire, claiming that the country is “rounding the turn" on the deadly coronavirus pandemic, sowing mistrust in the electoral process, and generally offering a joyful jumble of roving anecdotes and well-worn attack lines in place of a clear and comprehensive closing message on why he deserves four more years.
After the airport rally, Trump flew to Maine, where he stopped by an apple orchard and signed a pumpkin and red Trump hats before using a megaphone to greet hundreds of cheering supporters. The last-minute visit was a bid for the single electoral vote he won in Maine’s Second Congressional District in 2016.
In New Hampshire, Trump’s 90-minute tarmac soliloquy ranged from bragging about how many times he’d been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize to an eight-minute riff on years-old negotiations for purchasing a new version of Air Force One to blaming grim coronavirus numbers on increased testing.
Only occasionally did Trump clearly pitch voters on why they should support him. At one point, he painted the election as a fight against socialism. Later, he framed the race as pivoting on coronavirus closures with Trump as the candidate who would resist shutting down businesses and other aspects of daily life because of COVID-19.
“This election is a choice between a Trump recovery, and I call it a Trump super-recovery because that’s what’s happening . . . and a Biden depression,” Trump told thousands of supporters gathered outside at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. He said Biden would raise Americans' taxes “through the sky” and layer on burdensome regulations.
Biden has called for overturning the 2017 GOP tax cuts on households making over $400,000 a year and increasing some business taxes. Trump repeatedly claimed Biden would cut Social Security and Medicare, playing video, as he has at rallies all week, that portrayed Biden as untrustworthy on protecting those popular entitlement programs.
Going back to COVID, Trump charged that, “Biden is the shutdown candidate.”
“The Democrats are the shutdown party," he continued. "They will shut down your job, shut down your schools, your businesses, your police departments, your energy. They shut down your freedom, and they will shut down the greatest economic comeback in the history of our country.”
The topic of the raging pandemic wove through Trump’s rally, in both what the president said and did not say. He did not mention, for instance, that a fresh outbreak of the virus has struck the White House, with at least five aides to Vice President Mike Pence, including his chief of staff, testing positive in the past few days.
Instead, Trump claimed that the country is “rounding the turn” and that the pandemic is “going to be over.”
In reality, the United States set a daily record Friday for new confirmed coronavirus infections and came close to matching that number again Saturday with more than 83,000 new positive cases, according to data published by Johns Hopkins University.
Polls suggest the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has damaged his standing with many voters, including older voters who had been part an important part of the president’s winning coalition four years ago. As it happens, Maine is the oldest state in the country and New Hampshire the ninth.
In the Granite State, Trump played many of his usual hits. He called his Democratic rival “sleepy” and questioned his mental acuity. He mocked the low numbers of people at Biden’s campaign events (the Biden campaign has sought to adhere to strict social distancing and other health measures) and threw in an unsubstantiated reference to former president Obama drawing only 42 people to a recent event, seemingly just for the chance to call him by his full name, “Barack Hussein Obama.” (On Saturday, Trump claimed on Twitter it was 47 people.)
At times, Trump’s comments were a bit strange. Discussing his recent bout with COVID-19, Trump described the excellent medical care he received as president by telling supporters that “you have a doctor for every single part of your body. And they want to touch it, too. They want to grab you."
While Trump campaign officials assert the president is stumping only in battleground states, and the Granite State gave him a 20-point win in the 2016 primary before he narrowly lost it to Democrat Hillary Clinton in the general election, New Hampshire doesn’t seem inclined to break Trump’s way.
Trump has trailed Biden in every New Hampshire poll this year. In a Suffolk University/Boston Globe survey earlier in the month, Biden led Trump, 51 percent to 41 percent among likely New Hampshire voters.
And ahead of Sunday’s rally here, the editorial board of the Union Leader, the state’s largest newspaper, announced it is endorsing Biden, despite its reputation as a conservative paper with a long history of backing Republican candidates.
“President Trump is not always 100 percent wrong, but he is 100 percent wrong for America,” wrote the editorial board, which four years ago backed Libertarian Gary Johnson rather than support Hillary Clinton or Trump.
A spokesman for Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, said Sunday that Sununu did not attend the outdoor rally. The popular chief executive did receive a heaping of praise from Trump during the event. A relative benign reference to Mitt Romney, the Republican Utah senator and former Massachusetts governor, didn’t go as well. The crowd booed.
Loose and looking like he was having fun, Trump ignored the existence of polls about his standing in the state and asserted that the large crowd gathered for him meant he was likely to prevail.
“It’s like a poll, right, except much more accurate,” he said of the number of attendees, many wearing red Make America Great Again hats or sporting Trump 2020 campaign flags around their shoulders.
Trump continued to sow distrust in the electoral process. “The biggest risk we have are the fake ballots,” the president said, offering no evidence why that is the case. Experts say widespread electoral fraud does not exist in the United States.
That said, the Trump campaign is the only one that has fully embraced routine Granite State campaign events. Trump’s Sunday visit came less than a week after Vice President Mike Pence’s campaign rally in Portsmouth and an Eric Trump event in Manchester.
Nearly every week since August, some member of the Trump administration has held an official visit to the state. This includes first lady Melania Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx and many less high profile roles such as the administrator of the Small Business Administration, Jovita Carranza.
Meanwhile, Biden hasn’t been in New Hampshire since he skipped town early on the day of the New Hampshire primary. His vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris hasn’t been to the state in well over a year, but her husband, Doug Emhoff, visited New Hampshire on Saturday to help campaign workers who were knocking on doors.
After 94 minutes of speaking, Trump climbed the tall mobile staircase — which he had discussed in great detail during the rally — to Air Force One, pumped his fist, and boarded for the flight to Maine, where the campaign continued.
Gal Tziperman Lotan of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.