CONCORD, N.H. – Daniel Comeau isn’t necessarily a fan of former President Donald Trump. But when it comes to casting a ballot in the Republican presidential primary next year, the New Hampshire landlord will be hard-pressed to vote for any other candidate.
“There’s nobody that’s even close,” Comeau, who supported the celebrity businessman-turned-president in the 2016 and 2020 elections, told USA TODAY.
He’s far from alone.
Look at any Republican presidential primary poll and it’s clear that Trump is soaring far above other 2024 hopefuls. The ex-president is not only− he’s also registering the most loyal supporters of any GOP contender.
A recentsurvey of voters in New Hampshire, the first primary state, found that nearly 85% of the former president’s supporters have their minds made up. Comeau is among the mere 15% who say they haven’t yet fully committed.
And like many in that group, there’s little − other than Trump somehow not appearing on the ballot − that will actually change his mind before January.
Trump swaggers like incumbent
Republican leaders have largely brushed off Trump’s dominant lead in the primaries, attributing his sky-high numbers to the former president’s notoriety rather than to actual voter sentiment.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, running a distant second in polls, chalked Trump’s performance up to “100% name ID” during an.
“He’s the person people know,” DeSantis said. “When you actually drill down in these early states, clearly he’s got some that will vote for him no matter what. But there’s a lot more that aren’t going to vote for him in the primary.”
That may be wishful thinking.
Rock solid support
With less than three months until the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary, most voters leaning toward Trump are familiar with the other hopefuls. But they still prefer the bombastic former president because of his experience and enduring outsider status.
Lynne Hahn, a 62-year-old nurse, has eyed the other candidates, including former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and DeSantis, over the past few months. She keeps coming back to Trump over his administration’s foreign policy.
“I know Trump’s record,” Hahn, of Manchester, told USA TODAY. “We need somebody in there that’s going to be strong, and I know Trump is. That’s the big thing.”
Geoff Gual, an inventory control analyst who’s torn between Trump and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, also cited America’s foreign relations during the Trump presidency.
“Under Trump, we had no new wars and were actually getting out of them,” Gual said, standing outside a row of shops in Nashua, the state’s second-biggest city. “With all these conflicts in the world, I like the idea of not going into a new war.”
For Gual, it’s not so much a lack of knowledge about the other candidates as much as a deep understanding of what Trump stands for that is motivating his support.
‘Trump-lite’ isn’t working
Neil Levesque, director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anslem College, describes the phenomenon as akin to the advantage incumbent politicians enjoy when running for re-election. While Trump might not be an incumbent in the traditional sense, he dominates the Republican party.
“He is a known commodity for all intents and purposes,” Levesque argued. “Some candidates in the race have tried to be Trump-lite but that doesn’t work.”
“We have the real thing running, and so voters have stuck with him,” Levesque said.
Despite Trump’s four fiery years in the Oval Office, voters USA TODAY spoke with still viewed him as the biggest Washington outsider in the race – an attitude that is partially driven by the raft of criminal charges against him.
Trump faces federal trials in Washington, DC, and Miami over charges he sought to illegally overturn the 2020 election and that he hoarded and mishandled classified government documents. Prosecutors in Georgia have accused the real estate developer of, and the Manhattan district attorney has accused him with falsifying business records to hide $150,000 in alleged hush money to an adult film actress.
And Trump is currently in the middle ofbrought by the New York state attorney general, a Democrat.
Forty-six percent of likely Republican voters in the Granite State, according to the recent Suffolk University/Boston Globe/USA TODAY poll. Another 27% say Trump made questionable decisions but that he never committed a crime.
Hahn is among that majority. She is convinced Democrats are “trying to crucify” Trump, and the more they oppose him, the more she is drawn to the wealthy former reality TV star.
“They’re doing it just because they don’t like him. That makes me like him more,” she said.
‘You can’t be fooled by the polling’
Despite Trump’s massive lead in the race, top Republicans opposed to the former president have pointed to the Granite State’s large block of undeclared voters as a wild card that could tip one of his competitors over the top.
Roughly 40% of New Hampshire voters haven’t registered a party affiliation and could choose to pick up a Republican ballot on primary day. Party leaders, including Gov. Chris Sununu, have warned that those voters could be underrepresented in polling − potentially setting the stage for an upset.
“You can’t be fooled by the polling,” Sununu said after an appearance with Haley in early November. “The independents who typically don’t get polled enough, the ones that really tend to vote, those ones are going to come out in huge form against Trump,” he argued.
Levesque, who helps conduct surveys at the New Hampshire Politics Institute, didn’t dispute those claims.
“It’s very hard to test independent voters,” he acknowledged. “They’re less likely, because they’re less partisan, to go to the polls. So it’s harder to judge where they’re going to go and why they’re going to go.”
While it’s not impossible to imagine a situation where undeclared voters could push another candidate ahead of Trump in the Granite State, his current 30-point lead is a massive challenge.
“If New Hampshire has done anything, it has always shaken up the race and Nikki Haley is rising rather quickly. DeSantis has spent a lot of time here,” Levesque said.
“It’s just Trump has a solid lead and it hasn’t shrunk.”
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