Trump takes the stage at N.H. campaign rally; attendees boo mask mandate – The Boston Globe


    LONDONDERRY, N.H. — President Donald Trump reveled in the turnout at this week’s Republican National Convention while speaking on stage in New Hampshire Friday evening at his first major rally of the general election.

    He went on to criticize the mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser, who has overseen massive protests against the President, as well as other “Democrat-run cities.”

    The cheers rose as the plane arrived at the hangar, and when Trump finally emerged — clapping and fist-pumping and a full 52 minutes after he was scheduled to begin speaking — the crowd erupted again, as “God Bless the USA” played.

    The venue reached capacity around 4:45 p.m., with the campaign no longer allowing supporters into the hangar where his speech will take place. A group of overflow supporters instead crowded around an outdoor screen that would broadcast the rally.

    The president’s appearance in the state comes a day after his official acceptance of the Republican nomination, at a moment when he is trying to keep attention on his message in a reelection campaign that lags in polls.

    The rally’s scheduled 6 p.m. start was delayed as the crowd awaited the president’s arrival. Inside the hangar, hundreds of supporters danced to “YMCA” and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. They milled about in shirts that said “COVID-19 Fraud” and “Women for Trump” and “Trump 2020: Deal With It.” Less than half of attendees appeared to be wearing masks.

    When an announcement came across the loudspeaker reminding those in the audience to wear a mask in accordance with state law, many in the audience booed.

    For much of the day, organizers were taking attendees’ temperatures with touchless thermometers and offering free mini bottles of hand sanitizer to everyone. But most people milling about the paved lot were not wearing masks or had positioned them under their chin. Organizers stopped taking temperatures when the venue reached capacity, although hundreds of people continued to stream into the area.

    Concord residents Walter Milano and April Carter watched as the hangar filled earlier in the day. They have seen Trump speak six times to date, stretching back to 2016.

    “This is not a rock concert or a strip show. When’s the last time you saw people come out like this?” said Milano. “This guy makes it happen.”

    Trump mentioned New Hampshire, along with other campaign battleground states, during his Republican nomination acceptance speech Thursday night, while hitting Joe Biden for supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement 25 years ago.

    “The laid off workers in Michigan, Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and many other states didn’t want Joe Biden’s hollow words of empathy, they wanted their jobs back!”

    In Manchester Friday morning, there were mixed feelings about the presidential visit at the Bridge Cafe.

    Patrick McKeown, 73, said he thinks the rally crowd will look like the one at the Republican National Convention on Thursday. There, few wore masks, and even fewer practiced social distancing.

    “I get why they’re having the rally,” he said. “You want to do everything in your favor to get reelected. But I hope they do it responsibly, and that starts with responsible leadership — which this isn’t.”

    Nathan Holmquist sipped on an iced coffee, unaware the president was dropping by the state today. Still, he supports Trump.

    “At least I know what I’m going to get with Trump,” said Holmquist, 44. “I just got out of treatment. I’m in recovery. And a new person is the last thing I’m concerned about.”

    Mary Trask agreed. She attended a Trump rally during the 2016 election cycle, where she enjoyed the “energy and the excitement he brought.” This time around, Trask won’t be going because of an underlying health condition.

    “I like what Trump has done for America,” she said at a table outside the cafe. “Before him, the country was staggering, regressing. He brought us back.”

    One unmasked vendor, Jimmy Ellis of Connecticut, said he set up shop at 7 a.m. Business has been booming at his “New England for Trump” stand where he sells hats, shirts, stickers, and lanyards.

    “We know he’s going to win,” he said. “We already have victory merch planned out for when he wins.”

    Clad in Trump-branded shoes, socks, and pins, Edward X. Young traveled from New Jersey — more than 300 miles away — to attend his 32d Trump rally. He arrived last night and slept in a folding chair through the rain and cold.

    In fact, Young said he would’ve endured a tropical storm, like the one that cancelled the last N.H. rally, to see his president.

    “Even if there was a hurricane, we would strap ourselves to a lamppost to hear him speak.”

    Earlier this week, at the convention, Trump and his allies painted a frightening portrait of a country under siege from the left.

    But the convention this week was also sometimes overshadowed by breaking news elsewhere in the country, including growing protests over the shooting of a Black man by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wis., and a major hurricane bearing down on the Gulf Coast. Now, with the convention behind him, Trump aims to keep the media spotlight trained on his campaign.

    Randy and Kim Labnon, owners of the Town & Country Inn in Gorham, N.H., said Ivanka Trump’s speech at the RNC is the one that stuck with them.

    “What they said at the convention was exactly right,” said Kim Labnon. “Washington has not changed Trump. Trump has changed Washington.”

    New Hampshire has long held his interest. It is both the place that gave him his first-ever election victory in the 2016 primary and his narrowest loss in the general election, by just 2,700 votes. His campaign had planned a rally in Portsmouth in July, but abruptly canceled it the day before, citing a tropical storm that was not forecast to affect the area during his speaking time. That rally had garnered unfavorable attention, with public health and elected officials urging Governor Chris Sununu to require masks, fearing that a large gathering could spread COVID-19.

    The coronavirus has largely prevented the President from holding his favored raucous rallies this campaign season. The Tulsa rally, held in June, ended up attracting far fewer attendees than Trump’s campaign expected, but nonetheless led to an apparent spike in COVID-19 cases in the city afterward.

    Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, has steered clear of large events, speaking with supporters virtually or at small, in-person gatherings instead. Biden hasn’t set foot in New Hampshire since the state’s presidential primary in February.

    In a statement ahead of the New Hampshire event, Biden said, “Today, Donald Trump is bringing his message of division, lies, and chaos to New Hampshire, while Granite Staters suffer because of the president’s failure to lead when our nation needed it most.”

    For two decades, New Hampshire has been one most of the most hotly contested presidential swing states. It has been the place where presidential candidates and surrogates held events nearly every week in the home stretch of the campaign.

    In 2020, the attention has shifted to larger states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona as the places that will determine who wins the Electoral College and the White House.

    Masks are now required at New Hampshire gatherings with more than 100 people, and the Trump campaign said that masks are required at the event and will be provided to all attendees, along with hand sanitizer.

    Sununu said the campaign “completely understood” the state’s mask mandate, and that while he would greet Trump at the airport, he did not plan on attending the rally himself.

    “My guess, it’s going to be a lot of people,” he said in a news conference on Tuesday. “When I can, I try to avoid large crowds.”

    Zoe Greenberg can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @zoegberg. James Pindell can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.


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