President Donald Trump held a rally in front of thousands of supporters in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Thursday night, looking to once again demonstrate his popularity with New Hampshire's Republican voters.
The "Keep America Great" rally started with a minutes-long ovation when Trump took the stage at Southern New Hampshire University Arena.
"You have a reputation for being very staid," Trump told the crowd. "You're not acting it tonight. And that's good. That's a good thing."
He had the audience, which police said would reach as many as 11,000 people, vote on whether to stick with his old "Make America Great Again" slogan or go with "Keep America Great," which emerged as the slight winner.
He also taunted his rivals across the aisle, promising to pummel the eventual Democratic nominee with attacks a month before the general election next year, including a revival of the "Pocahontas" attack on Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts should she win the nomination.
"I will let them have it like you've never heard before," Trump said.
He also alluded to the upcoming Senate election in New Hampshire, touting his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who is considering a run.
"He hasn't made up his mind yet but he would be fantastic," Trump said of the Granite State native, who was in attendance.
When protesters briefly interrupted Trump's speech, he made fun of one's weight: "Go home, start exercising." He also stopped the rally for about a minute as he called for a doctor for an apparent medical emergency in the crowd.
Trump attacked some other common targets, including the news media and his 2016 presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The audience responded to his speech with familiar chants as well, including, "USA," "CNN sucks," "Lock her up" and "Build the wall."
As Trump left New Jersey, where he is staying at one of his golf clubs for the week, Trump told reporters he should have won New Hampshire in the general election, but "we had a lot of people come in at the last moment ... from locations unknown. But I knew where their location was."
Trump didn't elaborate. He has previously claimed there was mass voter fraud in the 2016 election but never provided proof. Experts say voter fraud is rare.
He was greeted by Gov. Chris Sununu when Air Force One touched down in New Hampshire about 6:20 p.m. By then, the crowd inside the arena was energized, chanting and cheering.
Supporters of the president began lining up as early as Wednesday morning, hoping to get a prime location inside the arena — the same location where Trump held a rally the night before he won the New Hampshire primary in 2016.
"It's bigger than the Super Bowl," said Edward Young of New Jersey ahead of the rally. "It's bigger than Game 7 of the World Series. It’s bigger than New Year’s Eve in Times Square. It’s an amazing event."
Meanwhile, protesters were seen outside holding signs denouncing Trump.
Manchester Police Chief Carlo Capano said security had been beefed up and that protesters would be kept in a designated area separate from supporters.
Three arrests were made, Manchester Police said.
"Enjoy your time here, demonstrate, we understand that's going to happen, just do so peacefully," Capano said.
An August University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll found that 42% of New Hampshire adults approve of Trump while 53% disapprove. The poll also showed that 49% approve of Trump’s handling of the economy and 44% disapprove.
How New Hampshire received the president on Thursday offered a fresh test of whether people will give credit to Trump for the state’s economy, base their decision on social issues or make their vote a referendum on the president’s character.
"I'm not sure any great tax policy that Trump has envisioned or created has helped it," said Tom Rath, a longtime Republican National Convention delegate and former New Hampshire attorney general who backed Republican John Kasich for president in 2016. "I think the climate is good. We’re flourishing in large part because Massachusetts is flourishing."
At 2.4%, New Hampshire’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for May was among the lowest in the nation. But wage growth is significantly below national gains. Average hourly earnings rose a scant 1.1% in New Hampshire in 2018, lagging the 3% gain nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In other ways, like the home ownership rate — first in the nation — and median household income — seventh in the U.S. — census data shows the state is thriving.
Ahead of the president's visit, his campaign held an event in Bedford, New Hampshire, on Tuesday to applaud the success of the economy under Trump, singling out the low unemployment rate. Joblessness in New Hampshire was also relatively low at the end of the Obama administration, a sign that Trump inherited an improving economy.
Much of Trump's rhetoric in 2016 was designed to appeal to Midwestern swing states where a platform of raising tariffs, protecting workers and restricting immigration resonated, Dartmouth College political scientist Dean Lacy said.
New Hampshire transitioned faster than Rust Belt states as it went from a manufacturing economy to a high-tech economy in the 1980s and 1990s, Lacy said.
"(Trump) doesn’t have an economic strategy that’s designed to win New Hampshire," Lacy said. "But also one that’s not going to necessarily lose New Hampshire."
New Hampshire's four Electoral College votes are far below that of key swing states like Florida, Wisconsin and Michigan, but its influence can prove powerful in close election years like 2000, when George W. Bush’s victory in the state gave him the edge needed to win the White House.
David Bates, a 26-year-old construction worker, said there has been "remarkable growth under President Trump." And when it comes to that growth, Trump should “at least partially, definitely," get credit.
And Robert Burrows, a 34-year-old tire technician, sees a raise and a competing job offer as evidence that the "awesome" economy has helped him.
"Trump isn’t somebody I’d want to marry to my sister or my mother," said Burrows, who originally supported Republican Ben Carson in 2016. "However, that’s not what I want him in office for."
Others feel the economic boasting that can sometimes be a trademark of Trump and his allies is undeserved.
"I don’t see where he’s helped me," Gary West, a 71-year-old retired steel fabricator who now works as a school bus driver. "Maybe the guy that’s got a million dollars he’s helped. But I don’t feel like he’s helped me at all."
For all the credit to go to Trump "doesn’t make any sense," said Amanda Gunter, a 34-year-old New Hampshire Democrat, who worries that the economy she describes as "doing well" could help Trump win another term in White House.
"I also think that we’re in a bubble," Gunter said. "And I think it's going to burst because I know Trump is rolling back regulations and that has me concerned. I also think the economy was doing well when Obama was in office. And I think that our good economy is because of things that Obama did, not Trump."
The economy may also not have the same draw for voters as it has had in the past.
Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who is running for reelection in 2020, described the New Hampshire economy as "going well" in a recent interview. But she said that while Trump has "talked about the importance of the economy," the top concern Shaheen said she hears from people in New Hampshire is based around health care.
"The economy and jobs are always important," Shaheen said. "But people can’t feel secure about the future of their families, even though they have a good job, if they’re worried about whether they’re going to have health care when they need it."
Gino Brogna, a 57-year-old chef manager, described himself as a Republican "by nature," though he isn’t "solely stuck to it" He didn’t like Democrat Hillary Clinton and recalls feeling as though his 2016 vote for Trump was "something that was necessary."
It doesn’t feel necessary for him again.
"I don’t think that he’s true to his word on a lot of things," Brogna said of Trump. "I wouldn’t vote for him again. That’s not going to happen."