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As Pence Puts Trump On New Hampshire Ballot, His GOP Opponents Visit The State

Vice President Pence files to list President Trump on the New Hampshire primary ballot to New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (left) on Thursday in Concord, N.H.
Charles Krupa
Vice President Pence files to list President Trump on the New Hampshire primary ballot to New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (left) on Thursday in Concord, N.H.

Vice President Pence traveled to New Hampshire on Thursday to officially add Donald Trump's name to the first-in-the-nation primary ballot.

His visit comes as President Trump's GOP challengers see the primary as a place where they'll make a stand against Trump, especially as other states have canceled primaries and changed Republican National Committee convention delegate rules to prevent any sort of insurgent candidate from emerging.

New Hampshire is in the thick of its traditional "filing" period, a time when presidential candidates or their surrogates visit the New Hampshire Secretary of State's Office to file the official paperwork and a $1,000 check to get on the ballot, as well as enjoy the local and national press coverage that often comes with the decades-old exercise.

Pence was joined by New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and other local campaign leaders. The campaign made sure to line the statehouse hallways with Trump supporters, many of them chanting "four more years" as Pence walked by.

"In so many ways, the movement that has transformed our country, rebuilt our military, revived the American economy, restored and strengthened the constitutional foundation of our courts, has America standing tall in the world again, began here in the Republican primary in New Hampshire," Pence said.

Pence also gave a speech at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, where he warned the audience that the Trump administration's progress "could be lost in one bad day in November a year from now."

The Trump ticket is expected to have at least three challengers on the New Hampshire ballot: former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld.

Sanford plans to be in New Hampshire through the middle of November. Walsh visited the state in October and plans to campaign again in November, while Weld, who's from neighboring Massachusetts, has visited frequently since he launched his exploratory campaign in February.

New Hampshire was Trump's first primary victory in 2016, although in the general election, the president lost the state to Hillary Clinton by 3,000 votes.

It's a loss that state Rep. Al Baldasaro said he still thinks about. Baldasaro has worked with the Trump campaign in the first-in-the-nation state since the 2016 race. He said the national campaign will be focused on New Hampshire "big time" in 2020 and is planning to send paid staffers to the state over the next few weeks.

When asked, Baldasaro said he wished New Hampshire wasn't holding a Republican primary as a way to show the state's Republicans were all behind Trump.

"I wish we didn't have one; I wish we stuck together as a team," he said.

But in New Hampshire, the makeup of that Republican team is a bit more complicated.

Trump supporters in New Hampshire had tried to get the state Republican Party to change its rules and openly endorse the president.

Republican parties in states like South Carolina and Nevada have canceled their Republican primaries. But in the end, that idea got batted down by other Republicans who decided that staying neutral was more important for the future of the country's first presidential primary.

And New Hampshire is still a state where an afternoon visit by a former Trump opponent can draw a small-auditorium-sized crowd, even when that candidate is not on the ballot. Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich was also in New Hampshire on Thursday to promote his new book, It's Up to Us. Kasich came in second to Trump in the 2016 primary.

"In terms of the Republican Party, it better change," Kasich told the audience. "I don't recognize this party, not the party I belong to."

Most of the audience questions skipped over the book entirely, asking instead why Kasich isn't running again.

Bob Kierstead said he came to see Kasich "in the event that the political horizon changes." Kierstead, a Republican, voted for Trump in 2016 but said he'll be watching the impeachment proceedings closely to see whether he should be looking elsewhere.

"If the president becomes damaged by whatever they're going to do in this process," Kierstead said, "he could be a wounded bird, so to speak ... and perception is [that] once that happens, you probably can't remove that tarnish. It's probably gonna stick with him, so he may not be able to effectively govern."

Kierstead said he sees this political moment as a time for Republicans to "be quiet right now and see what happens."

The candidate filing period in New Hampshire ends next week, though the secretary of state has yet to announce the official date of the primary.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lauren is NHPR’s Politics and Policy reporter for the State of Democracy project.