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Trump takes first big step in New Hampshire

But Stepanek’s involvement is also likely to irritate some Republican activists. State committee members were calling for a change in party leadership after a disastrous election in which the GOP slate of pro-Trump far-right congressional candidates was defeated and the party lost seats in the State Legislative Assembly. Stepanek had to face a challenger for the party presidency before deciding not to run for a third term.

And that will do little to allay concerns among some of Trump’s former allies in the state about the seriousness of his operation as he mounts his third bid for the White House.

Associates of Trump’s previous campaigns have expressed frustration with what they describe as lackluster — or non-existent — communication since his launch in November. At least one key ally was left in the dark about the former president’s visit this weekend, his first trip back to the state since 2020.

And while Trump will likely lock down some former supporters during his visit, others are slow to re-engage while they wait to see how the Republican primary develops.

Interviews with 16 former Trump aides and allies, veteran presidential campaign operatives, and current and former party officials revealed strong interest among Republican operatives and activists in his biggest potential rival – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. .

And a University of New Hampshire survey released this week showed the Florida governor had a 12-point lead over Trump among likely New Hampshire GOP primary voters — though DeSantis didn’t set foot in the fray. state in recent months. Young agents in particular have expressed their desire to be picked up by DeSantis, who they see as the next big thing.

“President Trump launches the [New Hampshire] primary season as a frontrunner, but his position isn’t what it used to be,” said veteran New Hampshire consultant Jim Merrill. “There is curiosity among voters and agents to check out the potential field.”

Ron to the Rescue, a pro-DeSantis super PAC formed after midterms to boost the governor if he runs for president, is also settling in at the New Hampshire GOP meeting on Saturday. The PAC planned to attend the event for a few months — long before Trump delivered the keynote address — to hand out DeSantis-themed swag like hats and koozies and to enroll volunteers in the event. State to support its efforts.

Trump’s last-minute appearance “really kickstarts this intriguing dynamic into the whole event,” John Thomas, a GOP consultant who founded the PAC, said in an interview.

Other potential candidates are also attracting interest — and have spent years whittling away Trump’s benefits in New Hampshire. Former Vice President Mike Pence, former UN Ambassador and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have become state fixtures after making multiple visits each to the over the past two years. Former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan also made the trip north to “Politics & Eggs” in St. Anselm, a preliminary stop for presidential candidates. Sen. Tim Scott (RS.C.) has been a top fundraiser for multiple parties over the years.

The state’s popular four-term governor, Chris Sununu, is a wildcard. Sununu has not ruled out running for president and acts like someone preparing to run, though several senior state officials doubt he will accept after refusing to run for the Senate last year .

Interviews with Republicans highlight the hurdles for Trump to overcome in New Hampshire. Despite his pedigree as a former president and de facto leader of the GOP, nothing will be handed to him.

Some Republicans see Trump’s first trip as a sign that the former president is expecting a crowded primary – and is ready to compete. Although the former president has been out of state since 2020, he still has time to build a team and organize his campaign, especially with other competitors taking their time getting in.

On Saturday, he will speak directly to a few hundred GOP activists in a high school auditorium — unlike the arena-sized crowds he commanded ahead of the 2020 election. Trump will then travel to Carolina du Sud for another smaller-scale event.

“It shows me that one, he’s going to work to earn this nomination and two, he’s not taking it for granted,” said longtime New Hampshire Republican consultant Mike Dennehy.

Republicans have been waiting for Trump to exit Mar-a-Lago after keeping an unusually low profile since his announcement in the fall.

His lack of infrastructure building in New Hampshire had concerned some Republicans who had worked on his previous campaigns. His trip to New Hampshire was only added to his schedule on Monday, nearly two weeks after aides announced plans for an event in South Carolina.

Joshua Whitehouse, who served as Trump’s coalitions director in New Hampshire in 2016 and later worked in his administration, said in an interview that “the former president’s base is still there” but that “the main shortcoming is staff and infrastructure”.

“Once he gets those ducks in line, he can cruise smoothly,” Whitehouse said.

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