BEDFORD, N.H. -- Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump returned to friendly territory — and familiar themes — Thursday with the ever-present bombast that has come to define his candidacy, but also something else: a plea for votes.
He stood before a crowd of several thousand at the New Hampshire Sportsplex, reminding Granite Staters that when they first carried him to victory, he promised to help combat the state’s opioid epidemic, a public health crisis throughout New England and much of America, by building a wall “to stop the heroin from pouring in.”
But, Trump admitted, he was also puzzled.
“I said, ‘How does heroin work with these beautiful lakes and trees?’ ” Trump asked. “More than any place, this state, I’ve never seen anything like it with what’s happening with the drugs, more so than in other places and other places are a disaster. But we’re going to turn it around for New Hampshire.”
The only way to heal New Hampshire – and the rest of the country – was by voting, Trump said, echoing a host of surrogates who warmed up the crowd.
And so amid the talk of trade, the economy, crime and violence, and his rival, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Trump also urged voters to knock on doors, make phone calls, and pound the pavement to spread the word about his candidacy.
“You have 40 days until the election. Spread the love that we have in this room to the people of this country,” he said. “Visit our website. I always hate saying that because it sounds, like, boring. But that’s the way it is. Do not let this opportunity slip away.”
New Hampshire has proved fertile ground for Trump, who won a decisive victory there during the first-in-the-nation primary in February. And so the New York businessman has returned to the swing state often.
But the most recent poll of New Hampshire voters, from Monmouth University, showed Clinton leading Trump, 47 percent to 38 percent. Overall, recent polls of the Granite State have shown a tightening race with Clinton holding, on average, a five-point lead over Trump.
And so, days after both appeared on stage during the first televised presidential debate, Trump and Clinton returned to the Granite State. She appeared Wednesday at the University of New Hampshire with US Bernie Sanders, who defeated her in the state’s Democratic primary by more than 20 points — a benchmark victory for the Vermonter.
One of the issues that had become a clarion call of Sanders’ campaign was his stance on trade agreements that he said cost American’s jobs, especially in manufacturing. Trump too has been critical of trade agreements, as well as the so-called political establishment, which is why, he said on Thursday, that Sanders’ supporters will turn to him. (There are humongous chasms between their stances on just about every other issue.)
“Bernie sold out to the devil,” Trump said. “The deal he made with Hillary was not the right thing and it wasn’t representative of what he should have done to his people and we’re going have a lot of Bernie’s people supporting us, especially because of my views on trade.”
Trump said he could sum up his economic policy in three words: “Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.”
And those words rang true for many in the crowd, some of whom were seeing Trump speak in person for the first time. For others, this Trump rally was one of many. And their collective enthusiasm was palpable as they shouted, “Lock her up!” and joined New Hampshire state Senator Andy Sanborn in a moment of call-and-response as he warmed up the crowd.
“I need you to talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. You need to tell people that we have an option and one of them is going to make America?” Sanborn said.
“Great!” the crowd shouted.
Robert Dubois said he’s a “big time” Trump supporter. The 67-year-old brought his granddaughter to hear Trump speak.
“We need change. I’m tired of the usual political types and media bias,” he said.
Dubois said he watched that bias played out in post-debate analysis of how the two candidates performed Monday night. Trump’s supporters understood what he meant even if others did not, Dubois said. Illegal immigration, the economy, trade, law and order, security – those were the issues that resonated in meaningful ways Trump spoke during the debate, he said.
“We know what he means. We hear him because he speaks from his heart,” Dubois said. “Hillary is a phony. She’s polished. She’s a politician. He’s not a politician, and that’s what we like about him. I’d rather someone like him than someone who is very polished in his speech.”
Lisa Kiertscher, 58, of Merrimack, was equally enthusiastic of Trump as a candidate, even if she was a bit more critical of his debate performance.
“I’m a huge supporter,” she said, nearly giddy because this was her first opportunity to hear Trump speak in-person. She watched him on television Monday and said she thought: “He could have been a little bit more composed, but it still doesn’t change my mind. This country is in desperate need of help.”
Akilah Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.