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2024 New Hampshire primary will be crucial first test for Trump’s comeback bid

Watch John King’s full report on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” at 8 p.m. ET.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Mate Andrew Konchek uses a dockside crane to lower the last giant ice chest onto the stern of the Alanna Renee. Moments later, the fishing boat leaves the dock and leaves Portsmouth Harbor by moonlight.

It’s a two-day trip and a storm is coming. Konchek often spends 80 hours a week on the water, sometimes more. It’s backbreaking work – and it shapes his politics.

“I’m a Republican,” the 38-year-old commercial fisherman said last week. “You know, they’re for workers. …I believe the Republicans are defending us. So yes, when it comes to gas prices and everything else, the economy seems better run by Republicans.

In 2016, Donald Trump caught Konchek’s attention, and he was among those who helped the first-time candidate achieve his first groundbreaking victory in the New Hampshire primary. Today, Trump is again at the top of Konchek’s list as he eyes another crowded Republican field.

“Donald Trump at the moment, but I’m going to keep it open so I can make an informed decision,” Konchek said. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is his second choice.

“You know (Trump) does a lot of negative things and a lot of things that I don’t agree with,” Konchek said. “But as a businessman, he can run the country like a business.”

Konchek is among a group of New Hampshire residents contacted by CNN as part of a 2024 reporting project aimed at following the presidential campaign through the eyes — and life experiences — of voters who live on the fields key battlegrounds or are members of critical electoral blocs.

The 2024 New Hampshire primary will provide a crucial early test for Trump’s comeback attempt. The state could also be a battleground for a general election. New Hampshire and national Democrats are still at odds over the scheduling of presidential primaries, and the state could lose some convention delegates if it ignores Democratic national committee rules. Still, the Democratic primary, whenever it occurs, would be a test for President Joe Biden at a time when even many Democrats say they would prefer a younger candidate.

A common complaint from fishermen that CNN spoke with is that they are left out of the state and country’s post-pandemic recovery and are doubly hit by inflation because it increases the cost of fuel, bait and other things they have to buy to work on top of that. by bumping into them, like everyone else, at the grocery store or at the gas pump.

Portsmouth’s 400-year-old commercial fishing industry is in trouble. Workers like Konchek say they feel ignored and disrespected by regulators who write the rules and set fishing quotas and by politicians who believe that one step toward cleaner energy infrastructure is dotting the coastline with ‘wind turbines.

“This will completely destroy our fishing industry,” Konchek said. He believes digging trenches for construction and cables to bring electricity to shore will damage already fragile habitats.

Konchek makes it clear that he is aware of the climate crisis and understands that it may require sacrifices for commercial fishermen.

A handful of fishermen CNN spoke with on the docks of Portsmouth or Rye Harbor, a few miles away, said similar things. The water is warmer. The storms are more violent. Fish are different. They understand the need for quotas and regulations, but say their contribution is almost always ignored.

“It’s definitely harder,” Konchek said when asked if he’s making a living today compared to five or 10 years ago. The Alanna Renee is a gillnet fishing boat, designed to catch big catches by draping nets in the water. Konchek also owns a 22-foot boat and in recent years has dropped lobster traps to supplement his income. But he didn’t take it into account this year.

2024 New Hampshire primary will be crucial first test for Trump’s comeback bid

“Fuel prices are much higher,” he said. “The price of bait is higher and the price of lobster has remained the same. »

Konchek thinks things would be better with a Republican as president, because they generally favor weaker regulations. Additionally, Trump is a fierce critic of wind farms.

His friend and fellow fisherman, Lucas Raymond, one day agreed. He, too, helped Trump win the 2016 primary here in New Hampshire – and supported him against Hillary Clinton in November.

But Trump’s chaos and rudeness turned him off, and he voted third party in 2020.

2024 New Hampshire primary will be crucial first test for Trump’s comeback bid

This cycle, Raymond is drawn to a new insurgent — so much so that he’s about to support a Democrat for president for the first time.

“It is extremely likely that I will vote for Robert Kennedy,” Raymond told us in Rye, where his fishing boat is moored in the harbor.

For what?

Raymond cites Kennedy’s years of work as an environmental lawyer, including helping fishermen affected by industrial pollution.

“I also believe he is a little more honest than our average politician,” Raymond said. “He’s willing to say we shouldn’t blindly trust businesses or our government. »

Raymond said he was first drawn to Kennedy after a teammate shared an interview on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. He says other Republican-leaning fishermen are also considering supporting Kennedy.

Raymond is registered as undeclared — an independent — and New Hampshire allows those voters to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary. Raymond has already left Trump, so his decision alone wouldn’t make much difference. But if he’s right about other former Republican voters who voted for Kennedy — a Democrat — that could be a dynamic worth tracking.

“I got to this point of distrust because I saw the regulations doing the exact opposite of what they claim to do,” Raymond said. “I felt stuck, I still feel stuck in the two-party system.”

Stanley Tremblay represents another piece of New Hampshire’s political math test.

2024 New Hampshire primary will be crucial first test for Trump’s comeback bid

Like Raymond, he is registered on the electoral lists as undeclared. Like Raymond, he is disgusted with national politics.

“There are so many politicians who have been in power for so long,” Tremblay told us at his Nashua brewpub, Liquid Therapy. “The same stagnant basin continues to exist. »

Tremblay’s father was a Vietnam veteran and some of his military patches hang on the walls of the brewery. It’s in an old fire station, and patches and other memorabilia left by firefighters also dot the walls. Tremblay says service and patriotism run deep within him, but he can no longer stand the tone of national politics and voted for a third party for president in 2016 and 2020.

2024 New Hampshire primary will be crucial first test for Trump’s comeback bid

“What if you had Biden-Trump again? » asked CNN.

“I probably won’t vote,” Tremblay said.

Tremblay is more of a Republican but is not a fan of Trump. So one could say that not participating in the Republican primary helps the former president.

On the other hand, Pete Burdett’s change of heart hurts Trump.

Burdett is a 21-year Navy veteran. The former helicopter pilot and flight instructor met Trump at a veterans event in 2016 and was smitten. “He’s a pretty smart guy,” Burdett said of the Trump he met at that event. “We had this great discussion.”

But Burdett said the Trump of 2024 is a far cry from the Trump of 2016.

2024 New Hampshire primary will be crucial first test for Trump’s comeback bid

“He speaks for himself,” Burdett says. “He doesn’t focus on the problems ahead. It seems to focus on the problems of the past. I’m done with the past.

A Nikki Haley sign sits at the end of Burdett’s driveway.

“She hit all my hot buttons,” Burdett said. “She has the international chops from her time at the UN to really understand the whole big picture of what’s going on in the world. You have to have it. And she also has a husband who is currently deployed, so she understands that.

Burdett says he would support Trump if he were the Republican nominee next November, but hopes the state that helped launch Trump in 2016 will turn to someone new for 2024.

The date for New Hampshire’s primary has not been set but it will take place early next year, likely in January. But as summer prepares to give way to fall, the signs of Trump’s advantage are easy to spot.

“It’s definitely very pro-Donald Trump,” said Natalya Orlando of Londonderry.

She was a Rand Paul supporter in 2016, but voted for Trump in the 2016 and 2020 general elections and is “pretty much” locked in for Trump in the 2024 primaries. “From what I see here, on the field is very pro Donald Trump.”

Still, Orlando adds a caveat worth watching.

2024 New Hampshire primary will be crucial first test for Trump’s comeback bid

“I personally don’t think he’s as strong as he was in 2015. People argue with me about it and tell me I’m wrong and get angry because I say that, but I’ll be honest. … I just don’t see the same enthusiasm behind him as I did in 2016. … I just don’t see it day in and day out, like I did. I hope I’m wrong,” she declared.

Orlando loved when Trump dominated the political debate with provocative and controversial tweets and sees him as more cautious in the 2024 campaign: “I would like Donald Trump to be Donald Trump again. »

Konchek also sees “less now” when asked to compare enthusiasm for Trump compared to the 2016 primary. “All the court cases,” he says. “Yeah, it impacted him here.”

However, Trump remains his first choice for the moment. Konchek expects to be on the water for the second GOP debate next week and hopes to be able to follow it on satellite television. Sometimes, during a lull at work, he checks the news.

“I’m going to turn on Fox and CNN. … I go back and watch the football games,” Konchek said. “I’m watching the weather to tell you the truth. That’s my job: pay attention to the weather.