Trump wins New Hampshire primary as rematch with Biden appears increasingly likely

Date:

BY HOLLY RAMER, WILL WEISSERT AND JILL COLVIN

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump easily won New Hampshire’s primary on Tuesday, seizing command of the race for the Republican nomination and making a November rematch against President Joe Biden feel all the more inevitable.

The result was a setback for former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who finished second despite investing significant time and financial resources in a state famous for its independent streak. She’s the last major challenger after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ended his presidential bid over the weekend, allowing her to campaign as the sole alternative to Trump.

Trump’s allies ramped up pressure on Haley to leave the race before the polls had closed, but Haley vowed after the results were announced to continue her campaign. Speaking to supporters, she intensified her criticism of the former president, questioning his mental acuity and pitching herself as a unifying candidate who would usher in generational change.

“This race is far from over. There are dozens of states left to go,” Haley said, while some in the crowd cried, “It’s not over!”

Trump, meanwhile, can now boast of being the first Republican presidential candidate to win open races in Iowa and New Hampshire since both states began leading the election calendar in 1976, a striking sign of how rapidly Republicans have rallied around him to make him their nominee for the third consecutive time.

At his victory party Tuesday night, Trump repeatedly insulted Haley and gave a far angrier speech than after his Iowa victory, when his message was one of Republican unity.

“Let’s not have someone take a victory when she had a very bad night,” Trump said. He added, “Just a little note to Nikki: She’s not going to win.”

With easy wins in both early states, Trump is demonstrating an ability to unite the GOP’s factions firmly behind him. He’s garnered support from the evangelical conservatives who are influential in Iowa and New Hampshire’s more moderate voters, strength he hopes to replicate during the general election.

Trump posted especially strong results in the state’s most conservative areas, while Haley won more liberal parts. The only areas in which Haley was leading Trump were in Democratic-leaning cities and towns such as Concord, Keene and Portsmouth.

Pat Sheridan, a 63-year-old engineer from Hampton, voted for Trump “because he did a really good job the first time.”

“We need a businessman, not bureaucrats,” Sheridan said.

About half of GOP primary voters said they are very or somewhat concerned that Trump is too extreme to win the general election, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of the state’s electorate. Only about one-third say the same about Haley.

Still, Haley’s path to becoming the GOP standard-bearer is narrowing quickly. She won’t compete in a contest that awards delegates until South Carolina’s Feb. 24 primary, bypassing the Feb. 8 Nevada caucuses that are widely seen as favoring Trump.

As South Carolina’s former governor, Haley is hoping a strong showing there could propel her into the March 5 Super Tuesday contests. But in a deeply conservative state where Trump is exceedingly popular, those ambitions may be tough to realize and a home-state loss could prove politically devastating.

“This is just the beginning; we’ve got the rest of the nation,” said Sandy Adams, 66, an independent from Bow who supported Haley. “I think we’ve got a strong candidate, and the first time we have just two candidates, and that’s a great thing.”

On the Democratic side, Biden won his party’s primary but had to do so via a write-in effort. The Democratic National Committee voted to start its primary next month in South Carolina, but New Hampshire pushed ahead with its own contest. Biden didn’t campaign or appear on the ballot but topped a series of little-known challengers.

Trump’s early sweep through the Republican primary is remarkable considering he faces 91 criminal charges related to everything from seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election to mishandling classified documents and arranging payoffs to a porn actress. He left the White House in 2021 in the grim aftermath of an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol led by his supporters who sought to stop the certification of Biden’s win. And Trump was the first president to be impeached twice.

Beyond the political vulnerabilities associated with the criminal cases, Trump faces a logistical challenge in balancing trials and campaigning. He has frequently appeared voluntarily at a New York courtroom where a jury is considering whether he should pay additional damages to a columnist who last year won a $5 million jury award against Trump for sex abuse and defamation. He has turned these appearances into campaign events, holding televised news conferences that give him an opportunity to spread his message to a large audience.

But Trump has turned those vulnerabilities into an advantage among GOP voters. He has argued that the criminal prosecutions reflect a politicized Justice Department, though there’s no evidence that officials there were pressured by Biden or anyone else in the White House to file charges.

Trump has also repeatedly told his supporters that he’s being prosecuted on their behalf, an argument that appears to have further strengthened his bond with the GOP base.

As Trump begins to pivot his attention to Biden and a general election campaign, the question is whether the former president’s framing of the legal cases will persuade voters beyond the GOP base. Trump lost the popular vote in the 2016 and 2020 elections and has faced particular struggles in suburban communities from Georgia to Pennsylvania to Arizona that could prove decisive in the fall campaign.

Trump traveled frequently to New Hampshire in the months leading up to the primary but didn’t spend as much time in the state as many of his rivals. Rather than the traditional approach of greeting voters personally or in small groups, Trump has staged large rallies. He has spent much of his time complaining about the past — including the lie that the 2020 election was stolen due to widespread voter fraud.

If he returns to the White House, the former president has promised to enact a hardline immigration agenda that includes stopping migrants from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and reimposing his first-term travel ban that originally targeted seven Muslim-majority countries. He’s also said the rising number of immigrants entering the United States are “poisoning the blood of our country,” echoing Adolf Hitler’s language.

Biden faces his own challenges. There are widespread concerns about his age at 81 years old. Dissent is also building within his party over Biden’s alliance with Israel in its war against Hamas, putting the president’s standing at risk in swing states like Michigan. A rally he held in northern Virginia on Tuesday to promote abortion rights — an issue his party sees as critical to success in November — was disrupted repeatedly by protests over U.S. military support for Israel. One person shouted “shame on you!”

But he avoided potential embarrassment in New Hampshire even as rivals like Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips compared him in advertising to Bigfoot — since both were hard to find.

Durwood Sargent, 79, of Bow, cast a write-in vote for Biden and said he wasn’t offended that the president kept his name off the ballot.

“It’s not a big deal. They’ve made a big deal out of it. The president’s got a country to run,” he said.

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