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Trump looks to New Hampshire to put primaries to bed

Former President Donald Trump speaks speaks to supporters in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on January 17, 2024.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY
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AFP via Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump speaks speaks to supporters in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on January 17, 2024.

Former President Donald Trump has a big event Friday in Concord, N.H., his third event in a week-long sprint of almost back-to-back rallies ahead of the state's decisive Tuesday primary.

Trump has been in the Granite State almost every night since Iowa, touting his 30-point victory in Iowa's caucuses. Now, as he looks to the general election, he's counting on New Hampshire's voters to help him put the election to bed.

"If you want to defend your honor, and if you want to defeat the radical left Democrats and save America, you must vote for your favorite president of all time, Donald J. Trump," he told cheering supporters in Atkinson, New Hampshire.

But first he needs to take out his top rival in the state: Nikki Haley, who he's claiming is not "tough enough" for the job.

Haley came in third in Iowa after Ron DeSantis. But Trump isn't going after the Florida governor. DeSantis has polled quite low in New Hampshire so far, while Haley enjoys growing support, now within striking distance of Trump's numbers.

That's why he's focusing on his former ambassador to the United Nations: because she's polling so well.

According to the FiveThirtyEight average of polls, Trump leads New Hampshire at 47% vs. 34% for Haley, and just over 5% for DeSantis.

At the rally in Atkinson, Trump accused Haley of artificially boosting her numbers.

"As you know, Nikki Haley in particular is counting on the Democrats and liberals to infiltrate the Republican primary," he said, likely referring to the registered Democrats who have changed party affiliation.

Haley has been trying to hit back, accusing Trump of throwing a "temper tantrum." And, in a new ad, she's painted Trump as having the same baggage as Biden.

"The two most disliked politicians in America. Trump and Biden," the narrator reads.

The tit-for-tat is just another sign of how critical the Tuesday primary is.

"It's the Trump and Haley show in New Hampshire this week," quipped Jim Merrill, a veteran Republican strategist in New Hampshire. "Unlike Iowa, there's a real contest going on here, and it's not a contest between second and third place."

He says Haley has an uphill climb, but she could win. She needs to gets the lion's share of supporters for Chris Christie – the top Trump critic who dropped out of the race, Merrill said.

She also needs a big chunk of independent voters who can choose to vote for either party in New Hampshire's semi-open primary.

Trump World is already acting like he's the nominee and wants to move on.

"Voters are better off with Trump financially," Jason Miller, a campaign adviser told NPR, echoing one of the campaign's main arguments.

Trump will continue to dominate in New Hampshire like he did in Iowa after winning almost every category of Republicans in the Iowa caucuses, he said.

"Whether it be the closer to the population centers, whether it be more rural, whether it be college educated, whether it be those who do not have college degrees," Miller said. "Every possible demographic you can think of, President Trump did very well."

Republican presidential candidate and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley talks with people at the historic Robie Country Store on January 18, 2024 in Hooksett, New Hampshire.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley talks with people at the historic Robie Country Store on January 18, 2024 in Hooksett, New Hampshire.

Still, what makes New Hampshire so harder to predict – and to poll - is that no one knows what its large portion of undeclared voters are going to do, said Jon McHenry, a Republican pollster with North Star Opinion Research.

"They could be absolutely disgusted with their choices by Tuesday and say it doesn't matter who they pick," said McHenry, who grew up in New Hampshire. "Or they could say, 'I've absolutely had it with Donald Trump and I'm going to, you know, to walk through a blizzard in my bare feet to get to the polls and vote that day.' "

But Fergus Cullen, a former New Hampshire Republican chairman, says the energy just isn't there for anyone not named Trump.

He argues Haley and DeSantis have not gotten nearly the size crowds that past Republican nominees, like John McCain and Mitt Romney received.

"New Hampshire is the last, best opportunity for someone to show that the party wants to move on from him," he said.

But, what he sees on the ground, is a Republican base that doesn't want to move on from Trump, at all.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.