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In New Hampshire, Beto O’Rourke comes back down to earth

Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke arrived at Colby-Sawyer College Friday with his wife, Amy.Charles Krupa/Associated Press/Associated Press

NEW LONDON, N.H. — During Beto O’Rourke’s campaign swing across New Hampshire Thursday and Friday, the former representative from Texas didn’t jump on any tables or bars or chairs — as he has been known to do when addressing his throngs of supporters.

Since entering the Democratic presidential race seven weeks ago, O’Rourke has perhaps never been so close to the ground.

For the months prior to jumping into the race, O’Rourke, 46, was the Democrat with all the buzz. Before he announced his bid, Oprah requested an interview and Vanity Fair put him on his cover (“I’m just born to be in” the presidential race, he told the magazine). Polls showed him in the top tier of candidates both nationally and in the early states on the nominating calendar.


But on Thursday, around the same time O’Rourke traveled from an event in Boston to New Hampshire, a Monmouth University poll was released showing him with 2 percent support in the first-in-the-nation primary state. In Iowa, which traditionally holds the first presidential caucuses, he dropped from third place with 11 percent support to fifth place with just 5 percent backing.

When asked about the state of his campaign, O’Rourke told reporters at Colby-Sawyer College on Friday, “I don’t feel that I have lost anything in the way that I am campaigning.” Thirty people had RSVP’d for the event, according to a campaign aide, but well over 100 showed up at noon Friday in heavy rain.

Still, it wasn’t the thousand people who waited hours for O’Rourke to show up late to his first event at Keene State College in March — nor was it the overflow crowds who crammed into diners and restaurants as O’Rourke jumped tables, benches, and chairs to address them.

During his swing through New Hampshire, he kept up an ambitious schedule — eight events in three days. His wife, Amy, joined him on the campaign trail for the first time in the White House race.


Now in the thick of the race, O’Rourke said he feels “more comfortable” with the frenetic pace of the campaign. His campaign, in many ways, is still in its infancy: His state director for New Hampshire just started this week, and his national campaign manager begins on Monday.

Until recently, O’Rourke, was best known for his bid to defeat Senator Ted Cruz in Texas — an unsuccessful effort that raised more money than any such race in history. Following his defeat, two separate draft movements urged him to run for the White House. When he did announce in March, O’Rourke raised a record $6.1 million on the first day — more than even Senator Bernie Sanders, then seen as the best fund-raiser in the field.

Known for broadcasting his thoughts and campaign road trips live on social media, O’Rourke entered the race with a splash — and many hours of cable news coverage. Last week, when O’Rourke suspended his campaign to go home and look for his family’s lost pet turtle in El Paso, the move was rarely discussed.

At the stop in New London, O’Rourke took questions from the audience ranging from climate change and prescription drug prices to the formal US relationship with Cuba. In each case, he spent the bulk of his answer explaining the background “on how we got here,” leaving vague what his plan would be. For example, on college affordability he said he supported more people going to community college, refinancing loans, and making college free for those who took less desirable jobs in less desirable locations — but he declined to detail how he would pay for these programs.


Retired banker Neil Wallace of Elkins, N.H., said he found O’Rourke “impressive” after watching him at a town hall. But in terms of his vote, Wallace said, others were more in the mix because they gave more specific answers. There are more than 20 Democrats running for president.

At a house party in Salem on Thursday, O’Rourke said that Senator Cory Booker’s proposal for federal gun licensing “may be too far.” But by Friday morning, in a taped television interview for WMUR, he shifted course: “I think we should explore that idea.”

The change, O’Rourke said, was that “I had thought about it more.”

Ricia McMahon, a longtime New Hampshire legislator and former Bill Clinton staffer, said she’s inclined to support a woman for president over “the Fred Astaire act on tables,” though she likes the energy that O’Rourke brings to the race.

“He’s come back down to earth, but there is still a lot of time for him to rise again,” said McMahon.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter: http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp