MILFORD, N.H. — Republicans gathered to shoot clays, chow down on hot dogs, and mingle with lesser-known presidential hopefuls who stopped through town Saturday. The candidate du jour: Ohio businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, whose presence was announced by simple white lawn signs declaring “TRUTH” in large blue letters.
Ramaswamy isn’t polling particularly well — he hovers in the low single digits — but his latest message vowing to pardon former president Donald Trump if he ends up being convicted of any of the 37 felonies he was charged with earlier this week landed well with voters at the Hillsborough County Republican Committee Flag Day Picnic, many of whom voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020.
Even the astonishing array of crimes alleged in the latest indictment — including alleged efforts to hide classified information from federal investigators — did not dissuade Trump’s staunchest supporters in this critical primary state for the GOP presidential contest. For some of them, it solidified their support.
“I’m gonna cast the vote for Trump because of it,” said 59-year-old Manchester resident Richard Olsen, who attended the Milford event with a handgun tucked in a holster belt. “And I want to see more candidates condemning what happened.”
Leading Republicans have distanced themselves from the former president in other ways but on this latest indictment against Trump, they have remained fairly quiet. That includes North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, who launched a longshot presidential bid this week. He stopped by the Milford event Saturday, and sidestepped a question from a reporter asking his opinion on how the indictment may play in the race.
“I’d leave that to the pundits and analysts,” he said.
Trump was charged Thursday by the Justice Department in connection with the discovery that hundreds of classified documents were taken to his Mar-a-Lago home after he left the White House. The 49-page charging document accuses the former president of willfully defying Justice Department demands to return the classified documents and enlisting aides in his efforts to hide the records.
The June indictment, which revealed that Trump improperly shared a Pentagon “plan of attack” and a classified map related to a military operation, marks the second time he has been criminally charged since March, when he was indicted in state court in New York related to hush money payments to an adult film star back in 2016.
Trump, who has denied wrongdoing in both cases, is the only former president ever charged with a crime. He is due to make his first court appearance Tuesday in federal court in Miami.
“SEE YOU IN MIAMI ON TUESDAY!!!” Trump defiantly posted on social media, which his presidential campaign then e-mailed to reporters.
At Joanne’s Kitchen, a diner on Nashua, N.H.’s Main Street, a television mounted above the counter flashed with photos from the unsealed indictment: boxes of records being stored on the stage in a ballroom at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, on a bathroom floor, in a shower.
“I just love that guy,” said Gerry Michaud, a 79-year-old retired broom salesman. He looked up at the television as he took a sip of lemon water. “I think he’s going to survive.”
Michaud, a Republican who said he voted for Trump in the last two elections, proudly flies a Trump flag in front of his house in Brookline, N.H.
Michaud is among numerous Republicans who believe that President Biden is using his administration’s Justice Department to persecute Trump for political gain, a view that has not been proven. He pointed out the separate search the FBI conducted of Biden’s former office and Delaware homes for classified documents. The FBI found none.
“You know, [Trump’s] not the most diplomatic guy. But I wouldn’t mind having him back,” Michaud said.
Across town at the Pheasant Lane Mall, one voter echoed Michaud, and said the indictment furthers his belief that Biden is involved in the Justice Department’s decision to charge Trump.
“I would vote for Trump because there’s so much corruption in the White House right now,” said Peter Iodece, a 75-year-old retired truck driver from Nashua. “They don’t want him to run because he said he was gonna clean up the swamp . . . so they’re gonna try to get him out. They’ve got a lot of power.”
Despite the strong support for the former president here, some New Hampshire voters who supported Trump in the past are keeping an open mind this time around. The roster of presidential hopefuls swinging through the state has grown, with a dozen Republicans in the primary race so far, and voters like Pamela Gzehoviak, of Hudson, have made an effort to meet candidates as they stop through.
She likes Trump, but feels he carries too much baggage. She liked Florida Governor Ron DeSantis too, but feels the governor, seen by many as Trump’s stiffest competition, is starting to lose momentum and “has a lot going on” in his own state.
“I‘ve just been running around, checking everybody out, listening to them,” Gzehoviak, 60, said.
Eugene Hartzell, a 73-year-old Nashua resident supported Trump in the past two elections, but is leaning toward supporting former vice president Mike Pence, who recently announced his candidacy.
“[Trump’s] not as good as he pretended to be,” said Hartzell, a Vietnam War veteran who believes Pence is more honest than Trump and “respects the Constitution.”
“If a president wants to make this country better, the most important thing is honor the Constitution,” he said.
New Hampshire state House Speaker Sherman Packard, who spoke at the picnic in Milford, said he worries Trump’s indictment will cast a shadow over his party.
“If things keep going wrong for him. I’m not sure how he stays in and wins,” he said.
But for now that seems to be a minority opinion among New Hampshire Republicans. Even some longstanding Trump critics say they doubt the indictment will hurt Trump’s performance in the primary here.
“You can tell because of the reaction of the other candidates,” said Fergus Cullen, a Trump critic who chaired the New Hampshire GOP in 2007 and 2008. “Given the choice to criticize former president Trump or use this as another opportunity to say he’s unqualified . . . they’re instead defending him. That tells you most of what you need to know.”
Back in Milford, where Ramaswamy was doing exactly that, Hillsborough County Republican Committee Chair Chris Maidment worked the room as the emcee, sipping a can of Coke and mingling with guests.
Maidment, who lives in nearby Petersborough, wondered if the indictment will ultimately serve as a test for Trump’s once-unbreakable popularity.
“He said when he was running in 2016 that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and his poll numbers would go up,” Maidment, 34, said, slightly misquoting Trump’s 2016 line about how he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and not risk losing any voters. “I guess we’re gonna find out if that’s true.”
Globe correspondent Maliya Ellis contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.