CONCORD, N.H. — Vice President Mike Pence returned to New Hampshire on Thursday for one of the more storied American political traditions, formally placing Donald Trump’s name on the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary ballot.
“The president said to ‘tell them we are going to win,’ ” Pence told supporters as he shook hands and took selfies at the New Hampshire State House.
Along with the pageantry, his trip came with dramatic storylines playing out in real time: a top aide giving testimony to the House as part of the impeachment inquiry, Pence denying a report he colluded to remove Trump from office — and former Ohio governor John Kasich, who finished second to Trump during the last New Hampshire primary, also speaking in the state Thursday.
Talking to a crush of reporters, Pence defended the president from the impeachment probe that heard Thursday from Jennifer Williams, Pence’s adviser on European and Russian policy, who was on the July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky that has been the focus of House investigators.
“Behind closed doors, there’s a so-called impeachment inquiry that I think the American people know is nothing more than a partisan impeachment,” Pence said. “The American people have the transcript.”
When asked about the accusation in the upcoming book by a anonymous Trump staffer that Pence would sign off on a potential Cabinet revolt to remove Trump from office, Pence said it wasn’t true “without qualification.”
“When those rumors came out a few years ago, I dismissed them then,” Pence said. “I never heard any discussion in my entire tenure as vice president about the 25th Amendment.”
As for Kasich, aides in the state say a 2020 run isn’t in the cards, but a 2024 run might make more sense, a move that could pit him against Pence and mark Thursday as the first day in the 2024 New Hampshire primary.
But the main focus Thursday was 2020.
Under New Hampshire law, candidates who want to be on the state’s presidential primary ballot only need to do so in person on the last day, which this year is Nov. 15. All that is required to file is a signature on a single-page form and a $1,000 check. Last time, Trump filed in person like most White House hopefuls.
But incumbent presidents running for reelection typically have a surrogate file the paperwork for them. In the 2012 election, then-vice president Joe Biden did it for Barack Obama, and in 2004, George W. Bush’s sister went through the exercise. Ahead of the 1996 primary, then-first lady Hillary Clinton filed for her husband — some dozen years before she did the same for herself.
Pence held up the one-sheet filing form with Trump’s signature for television cameras and reflected on Trump’s win in the state’s presidential primary, the first election win of the president’s life.
“In so many ways, a movement that has transformed our country, rebuilt our military, revived the American economy, restored the strength of the constitutional foundation of our courts, has American standing tall in the world again, has made America great again, began here in the Republican primary in New Hampshire,” Pence said.
Unlike New Hampshire, some states, including Kansas, Alaska, South Carolina, Arizona, and Nevada, have decided to cancel their Republican primaries, denying Trump’s three primary opponents a chance to challenge him. However, former Massachusetts governor William Weld, former South Carolina US representative Mark Sanford, and former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh all intend to be on the New Hampshire ballot. Polls suggest that Trump will easily win.
After the ballot filing, Pence visited a popular restaurant in Manchester, the Puritan Backroom, which is not exactly on brand for Pence, given that it is owned by US Representative Chris Pappas, a Democrat who is openly gay.
Pence then spoke for 30 minutes at the “Politics and Eggs” series, where he highlighted the strong economy, addressed efforts to curb the opioid crisis, and even offered some thoughts on 2020.
He said he watched the last Democratic presidential primary debate “because I figure there is a vice presidential candidate in there somewhere” and that he was amazed that the candidates “didn’t fall off the stage” because they were moving so far left.
“On one issue after another, these Democratic candidates want to take us back,” Pence said. “That is why I placed Trump’s name on the ballot, and with your help we will have another four years.”
James Pindell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics: http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp