ROCHESTER, N.H. — One day after a Republican debate where he was pushed and prodded, Donald Trump returned to his comfort zone Thursday evening in New Hampshire, where he reveled in his off-the-cuff speaking style — uninterrupted — for the throngs.
At a town hall meeting that filled a basketball gymnasium at the Rochester Recreational Arena, New Hampshirites queued in line for hours until the billionaire arrived. About 3,000 people chanted Trump’s name as he walked onto the small stage.
“There’s a great movement going on, and it’s a special movement,” Trump told the crowd. “We’re going to bring back the American Dream.”
For months, Trump has reigned in his party’s polls — both nationally and in New Hampshire — as the front-runner in a GOP field of more than 15 candidates. But Republicans have noted Trump’s subdued performance in the second GOP debate Wednesday evening as out of character for the bombastic businessman.
Trump’s vigor returned for his 20-minute speech, during which he focused on his familiar campaign themes like halting illegal immigration, improving the economy, and care for veterans.
After his speech, Trump took questions from audience members for nearly 25 minutes. Their inquiries ranged from local to national concerns, as people invited Trump to their home, complained about President Obama, and jeered a woman who asked about global warming.
When an audience member asked Trump how he was so sure a wall along the border would work to stop illegal immigration, the candidate responded to laughter: “A Trump wall works, that I can tell you.”
Another woman asked Trump about the migrant crisis in Syria, to which he replied: “You have to have a heart, but it comes to a point where you have to get your own act together.”
“What happens if they’re ISIS?” added Trump, referring to Syrian refugees. “Europe needs to help themselves.”
A recent college graduate said she was concerned about the economy.
“People borrow money to get to college and can’t get jobs,” Trump told her. “I promise you I’ll be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.”
According to the CBS/YouGov poll taken earlier this month and released Monday, Trump leads the GOP field in the three early nominating states — and he maintains the largest lead in New Hampshire. In that early September poll of the state’s voters, Trump had an advantage over Dr. Ben Carson, 40 percent to 12 percent, among Republicans.
Nationally, a New York Times/CBS News poll released Tuesday showed Trump with support of 27 percent of GOP primary voters; Carson trailed him with 23 percent.
Many of the audience members at Trump’s town hall watched his debate performance from Wednesday.
“The candidates were bashing [Trump] at the debate, but he did well,” said Stephanie Glidden of Wolfeboro. “And tonight he was awesome. I’m glad he took questions.”
Glidden said she felt that his aggressive tone resonates in New Hampshire.
During the GOP debate, the real estate mogul faced criticism from rival candidates, including several terse exchanges with former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina. Trump spent several minutes attacking Fiorina’s business record at his town hall meeting, saying he “didn’t see why” people were applauding her debate performance.
Stephen McKenney of Rochester said he thought other candidates won arguments over Trump, but that did not change his support for his chosen candidate.
“He’s not a politician. We’re sick of the same old, same old,” McKenney said.
McKenney called the campaign a movement.
“This feels different,” he said.
Trump left in a black motorcade about an hour after his speech began. Supporters lined the auditorium’s hallways to chant and greet the candidate as he left.
“Build that wall, Mr. Trump!” a man yelled to cheers.
Astead W. Herndon can be reached at email@example.com.