BEDFORD, N.H. — Whether New York businessman Donald Trump is serious about running for president or just serious about getting publicity, his groundswell of support in recent weeks is hard to ignore.
Since announcing his bid for president in mid-June, Trump has climbed to second place among the Republican field in New Hampshire, Iowa, and nationwide, according to separate polls in recent days. No other Republican has numbers as good in all three metrics.
A deeper look into these polls, and interviews with dozens of Trump supporters in New Hampshire, suggest that his backers are attracted by his reality TV star celebrity, and his blunt message on the issues, particularly immigration. A University of New Hampshire poll found that Republican voters in the Granite State trusted him more than any other Republican candidate to improve the nation’s economy.
His second-place standing, to be sure, comes seven months before New Hampshire votes and before many of the other candidates have garnered much name-recognition. Early polls often bear little resemblance to final vote tallies.
His strong showing now is also a result of an unwieldy field of 18 potential and announced Republican candidates all vying for a slice of the electorate. Trump’s rise has been on a parallel track with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s second-place rise in the Democratic presidential contest. In Democratic polls Sanders has support around 35 percent. But in a diffused Republican field, Trump can nab second place with just 11 percent support.
On Tuesday about 200 Republican and independent voters stood around a Bedford backyard pool in light rain hoping to see Trump. Among them were Janet Maroux and Phillip Labrake, independent voters from Manchester. Both said Trump’s wealth makes him free to say things other politicians cannot.
“He doesn’t need anyone’s money, so he can be his own person and say the things we are all thinking, particularly when it comes to his stance on immigration,” Labrake said. The controversy over Trump’s recent statement that Mexicans illegally crossing the border are “killers” and “rapists,” only makes Labrake like him more.
Even in a historic two weeks involving major news stories like the racially charged shootings in South Carolina, Supreme Court rulings on the Affordable Care Act and gay marriage, and even New York prison escapees, controversies involving Trump remain in the news. Univision, NBC Universal, and Macy’s announced they were no longer doing business with Trump, but such news only reaffirmed to these Trump supporters that their candidate is fighting the broader system.
Indeed, the most common characterization Trump supporters in Bedford used to explain his appeal was “truth teller” — and, said Chuck Poltack of Bedford, he “tells it the way the Republican candidates should tell it.”
Sasha Daneault, a stay-at-home mother from Manchester, said Trump’s business background is what the country needs. “He has run one of the largest companies in the world, and what we need right now is a businessman,” Daneault said.
Pollsters from the University of New Hampshire and Suffolk University found that Trump does best among voters who are younger, less educated, and with less income.
The Suffolk poll found that Trump led all Republicans in New Hampshire among those between the ages of 18 and 44 and also led among those less interested in politics.
Trump also appears to do well among women and small business owners.
Valerie Tukey, who owns Aesthetics by Valerie in Nashua, said she likes Trump because he understands business and “doesn’t play the PC game.”
Matt Lemieux, 36, of Lee, N.H., founder of an insurance and financial planning company, said he supported Trump “long before he was even a candidate.”
“We need his strong leadership, and who better understands the economy and how to create jobs than Trump?” Lemieux said.
A Quinnipiac University poll of Iowa Republicans released Wednesday found that Trump had consistent support from all parts of the party’s ideological spectrum, from Tea Party movement supporters to moderates.
“In Iowa there is a slice of the electorate who says they are for him, but we are eight months before any state votes, and that is an eternity,” said Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown.
A CNN poll of Republican voters across the nation put Trump in second place behind former governor Jeb Bush of Florida.
“Politicians are all talk and no action, and the American public is ready for a leader with a proven track record of success,” Trump said in a statement Wednesday. “These poll results are representative of the response we are receiving from all over the country.”
The poll results also mean Trump will probably qualify for the first two GOP primary debates that will occur in August and September. To qualify candidates must be in the top 10 in an aggregate of national polls.
“I think the most interesting moment for Trump will be that first debate,” Brown said. “What he says and how he performs will show whether he is at a ceiling for support.”
While the University of New Hampshire poll showed that only 7 percent of Republicans viewed Trump as the most electable GOP candidate in the general election, Mylla Fairley of Stratham said she believes he has the best ability to beat Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“Mitt Romney was too gentle with his opponent,” said Fairley, who attended the Trump house party in Bedford. “No one doubts for a minute that Trump will take it right to Clinton. He isn’t afraid of anybody.”