ATKINSON, N.H. -- Donald Trump’s supporters in New Hampshire have long gone to great lengths to see him, lining up and down stretches of blocks for hours in the heat of the summer in Hampton, squeezing into a cramped gymnasium in Rochester, and crowding into numerous overflow rooms in Keene. And on Monday, those who wanted to catch Trump had to set their alarms extra early for his town hall on the TODAY Show and a public rally just before it.
People lined up in droves outside the Atkinson Resort & Country club before daylight in temperatures dipping down to 30 degrees. Outside the venue, a truck carried a spinning, triangular billboard donning close-ups of Trump’s face, Trump’s slogan, and the words “Donald Trump For President The Future Depends On You -- Vote Trump.” The sun only started to peek out above the horizon as Trump took the stage for his first appearance of the morning.
The campaign estimated that 1,400 people showed up before dawn to hear Trump in his public event before the TODAY show town hall, as Trump blasted Ben Carson for his “low energy” and Jeb Bush for his “disastrous” campaign troubles.
Just after 7 a.m., Trump took the stage to an enthusiastic but slightly groggy audience. He was particularly miffed at the media for attention on recent polls that have shown him trailing Ben Carson in Iowa, while noting that he has led in national numbers for more than 100 days. "I've been number one almost from the beginning,” he said. “From the day I filed."
The crowd applauded all of his lines.
At the TODAY town hall moderated by NBC’s Matt Lauer, Trump faced a very different audience. Nestled in a smaller room below the larger one for his public rally, Trump found himself face-to-face with 125 people in a silent room with genuinely undecided New Hampshire voters who were considering him, but not sold. They sat around circular tables and downed pancakes beneath the bright TV lights. It was more of a typical political scene that voters in New Hampshire witness. They are accustomed to poking and prodding the presidential candidates, interacting with them in small, intimate, settings, and pressing them for deep details on their policy positions, all still under the glare of national media.
Trump answered an hour’s worth of questions ranging from topics on foreign policy, guns, his record with women, and whether he has ever had to answer to people telling him “no.” In addressing that question, Trump spoke about his upbringing and noted that he started his real estate career with a “small loan” of $1 million from his father, a number that raised a few eyebrows, but Trump was quick to point out that he paid it back with interest.
Jill Casey of Hampstead, New Hampshire, asked that question and said she thought he gave a “very good answer.” But she's still undecided, trying to choose between Trump and Carson. “If you could kind of mush together Carson and Trump to kind of temper him down a little bit and kind of beef up Carson a little bit to get him a little bit more assertive, that would make a great team,” she said.
Donna Morris, who runs the Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce, was impressed with Trump’s answer on how he would handle the situation with ISIS.
“I personally grew up as a military child and have always been concerned with our national defense and our place on the world. I was pleased with his answers. There is a lot of very terrible stuff over there and we need to make sure that our country remains strong,” she said.
Trump is a “force to be reckoned with,” said Ralph Murphy of Kingston, who attended the earlier public rally. “He’s just a power that people haven’t been exposed to before. If he continues that way, we will be better off."
“This is the second time I’ve seen him and he just gets better each time,” he added.
It takes a special breed of voter to line up for a political rally in the early hours before dawn, and not all of them walked away satisfied.
Brad Maxwell of Kingston also attended the first rally of the morning. He says he has seen five candidates speak so far and wanted to hear details on Trump’s plan for Social Security. “I was very disappointed that he didn't take any questions,” he said. “I saw Chris Christie a couple weeks ago and he answered everyone’s questions. Went on for a long time. And Donald just spent half of his speech talking about how good he was doing in the polls and he didn’t offer anything of substance.”
Roxanne McGaffigan of Hampstead asked Trump about his strategy to get the female vote and why women should be voting for him. “I was a little bit satisfied but there’s only so much you can do with a limited amount of time in a certain setting. However, I would like to hear more possibly about appealing to women in education, in government, or in business,” she said.
McGaffigan was already leaning towards Trump but said his appearance Monday sealed her decision. “Especially when you see him in a setting like this, you get what he is saying,” she said. “I don’t think though that he has a lot of the majority convinced yet with some of his off-the-cuff answers. However I think that Trump is the right choice for me.”
“I definitely made my decision today,” she said.