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Bills and border crisis drive Trump voters to polls

Miranda Blair
Miranda Blair

Miranda Blair didn't vote for Donald Trump in 2016 because he scared her.

This week, she was wearing a bright red "Make America Great Again" hat as she waited in sub-freezing temperatures to hear him speak in Manchester, New Hampshire, as he rallied Republican voters to choose him as their nominee.

A lot happened in between to change Ms Blair's thinking.

"Just a few years ago under Donald Trump, I felt like I could afford groceries and bring my girls skiing, and do all the things we wanted to do," she said.

The 40-year-old sales manager voted for Barack Obama, a Democrat, in 2008 and found Mr Trump's lack of political experience disqualifying in 2016. Disliking the options, she didn't vote that year.

But during Mr Trump's presidency, she changed her views. And her financial struggles now, under a Joe Biden presidency, have cemented her support for Mr Trump.

"I'm a single mom of two young girls, and so life is really difficult right now, as far as the economy goes," she said. Despite earning more money than ever, she feels she will never be able to buy a home and has never paid so much in rent.

Ms Blair's evolution towards Mr Trump, spurred by the soaring cost of living in recent years, US involvement in new foreign conflicts and a belief that the Biden government has abandoned people like her, helps explain why the former president looks near certain to win the Republican presidential nomination.

In New Hampshire, the second state to choose its nominee, Mr Trump has opened a double-digit lead over former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, and his other big rival, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, has dropped out.

In interviews across the state before voting began on Tuesday, at campaign headquarters and pubs and diners, Mr Trump's supporters said returning him to the White House was, as Ms Blair put it, "our last shot at restoring our beautiful country".

Former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walks on to the stage at a rally ahead of the New Hampshire primary election in Concord, New Hampshire, US, on 19 January 2024
Former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walks on to the stage at a rally ahead of the New Hampshire primary election in Concord, New Hampshire, US, on 19 January 2024

Mr Trump is doing everything he can to nurture that sentiment.

"The Washington swamp has done everything in its power to take away your voice," he told supporters in Manchester on Saturday, while Ms Blair listened from the crowd. "But this Tuesday it is finally going to turn your way, your voice is going to be given back. You had a voice just three years ago."

The White House has for months made President Biden's economic record a key part of his re-election pitch. They argue his investments in infrastructure and green energy policies have boosted job creation and wages, and helped the economy weather the high inflation that dogged much of his first term.

But even though gas prices and inflation have now come down, voters like Ms Blair look back on the Trump presidency as a rosier time.

Chris Ager, the state committee chair of the New Hampshire Republicans, said Trump supporters were drawing a stark contrast between how they felt during his presidency, and how they feel now. "He's essentially saying, 'Were you better off now than you were four years ago? Data says most people say no, we're not better."

Rene Cote, who recently became a US citizen, said Mr Trump was a better choice than Mr Biden because of "the economy, fuel [prices] - everything you can imagine was better than it is today".

His son-in-law, John Ratliffe, believed that Mr Trump, who has taken a hardline stance on immigration issues since day one, would do a better job securing the southern border with Mexico. "People are just sick of what's going on," he said. "Something needs to be done and he's the only one who has the gall to do it."

A Trump campaign rally queue in Rochester
A Trump campaign rally queue in Rochester

Karoline Leavitt, a campaign spokeswoman, said volunteers were happy to brave frigid temperatures because "suffering through the cold for a few short days to knock doors is much better than suffering through four more years of Joe Biden's disastrous presidency".

Mr Trump's policies and persona have not fundamentally changed since his first campaign, to the extent Mr Ager referred to the strategy in New Hampshire as "2016, 2.0".

But Mr Trump's political message has changed after four years in the White House, which ended with him falsely claiming the 2020 election was stolen and a riot by his supporters at the Capitol.

He has drawn his supporters closer in 2024 with allegations of a vast legal and political conspiracy against him.

For many of his supporters in New Hampshire, this worldview has become fact, and their distrust in the US government has grown.

Just over half of the state's Republican voters believe that Mr Biden won the 2020 election "due to voter fraud", a Washington Post/Monmouth University poll released on Monday found. About 82% of voters who say they will vote for Mr Trump hold this view.

Ms Blair is one of them. She does not trust the vote-by-mail system and when asked about the false claims around the 2020 election said Mr Biden was not charismatic enough to have won a record-setting 81.2 million votes.

On Sunday, dozens of supporters gathered at Tempesta's, a pub in rural Keene modelled on a grand Dublin bar, to hear Congressman Matt Gaetz, a key Trump ally, make his pitch for the former president.

After his speech, he fielded a question from one man about the January 6 "hostages" - how Mr Trump has started referring to the individuals who were jailed, convicted, or pleaded guilty for their participation in the Capitol riot.


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Lynne Mason, 60, said she didn't believe that the storming of the US Capitol three years ago was violent.

Her top concern was about illegal immigration but she also worried that high housing costs were putting her children off having families, and she was baffled by her $300 grocery bills.

Over and over, conversations with voters at the events turned back to the economy.

BethAnne Tatro, also at the Keene meet-and-greet, said that the cost of running her Monadnock Country Café had skyrocketed in the past couple of years. Sales were down and costs were up, she said, adding: "Inflation was terrible."

"I wanted to move my small business forwards," the 53-year-old said. "In 2023, it went backwards."

Ms Tatro did not point to a specific policy that Mr Trump should introduce in order to ease inflation or bring prices down. But she believed if he returned to the White House, people would simply feel more confident about their prospects. "We'll see things adjust themselves."

A Trump victory is looking very likely here, but not guaranteed. Ms Haley has been blazing through the state trying to court moderate Republicans and independent voters.

The state's large share of unaffiliated voters - those who chose not to register with a political party - are free to vote in the Republican primary and are currently up for grabs.

Shoppers in California
Shoppers in California

One activist group, Primary Pivot, is trying to convince unaffiliated voters who lean left to vote in the Republican primary because, as co-founder Robert Schwartz put it, "Donald Trump is an existential threat to our democracy and to our country… and we're all better off if both major parties have candidates that respect our democracy."

Ms Haley has gained ground in the polls, and with that the confidence to attack Mr Trump more directly than before. After he appeared to confuse her with former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Ms Haley, 52, questioned whether the 77-year-old was "mentally fit" for the pressures of the presidency.

Nikki Haley in New Hampshire
Nikki Haley in New Hampshire

On Sunday, she asked supporters: "Do we really want to have two presidential candidates in their 80s?"

Elizabeth Smith, a 64-year-old who travelled from Ohio to volunteer for the Haley campaign, said that her candidate was the most qualified, given her experience in international affairs. "And she doesn't have the chaos following her that President Trump always has following him."

The primary is her last chance to turn things around in the race for the nomination, said Mr Ager, the New Hampshire Republican official.

But Ms Blair will be doing her part to ensure that doesn't happen.

Early on Tuesday morning, before she starts work, she will walk to her local poll site and vote. This time, there will be no hesitating. She will vote for Donald Trump.