The outcome of the 2016 presidential election came down to a handful of Midwestern states in which just enough working class white voters backed Donald J. Trump to put him over the top against Hillary Clinton.
Lost in all of that drama was the closeness of the contest for New Hampshire’s four electoral votes.
Clinton defeated Trump in the Granite State by only 2,732 votes. Not only was the race close, but there were a couple of meaningful asterisks. Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson won 30,827 votes. The majority of those votes would have presumably gone to the Republican nominee in a head-to-head Trump/Clinton matchup.
Also of note, was the fracturing of the GOP vote between Trump and incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who was facing sitting Gov. Maggie Hassan in one of the nation’s most competitive Senate races of 2016.
On October 8, 2016, Ayotte withdrew her endorsement of Trump after the now-infamous “grab them by the p—-y” comments went public. Trump survived the controversy over his remarks and became president of the United States. But Ayotte did not survive the controversy over her dis-endorsement of Trump. She lost to Hassan by a mere 1,017 votes.
The only other statewide Republican candidate on the ballot, Chris Sununu, defeated the Democratic nominee by a comfortable margin.
These results raise an interesting question: Could Trump have beaten Clinton if Republicans were unified?
This much is clear — the votes were there for him to upset Clinton. But 2020 is a different year with far different circumstances.
A still-recent poll from Saint Anselm College shows former Vice President Joe Biden beating Trump 50-42 in the Granite State. However, Biden’s lead is built atop a huge 26-point advantage over Trump among women voters. The poll was taken before allegations against Joe Biden gained widespread media attention.
What does Trump need to do to win New Hampshire this time around?
Win back seniors. New Hampshire is an aging state. The 60-and-older population is growing more rapidly than any other segment of the state’s population. The Census Bureau estimates that over 26 percent of the state’s population will be 60-and-older by 2030. Traditionally, seniors have been among Trump’s strongest supports. Today there is evidence that the president’s response to the coronavirus is hurting him among this key demographic. Trump needs to hold the support of New Hampshire’s seniors to win New Hampshire.
Make down ballot races competitive. Ayotte lost in 2016, but the race was extremely competitive. Right now, the 2020 U.S. Senate race between Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and the yet-to-be-determined Republican nominee doesn’t look anywhere near as competitive. The Trump campaign and the Republican committees in D.C. need to ensure the Senate race, as well as the gubernatorial campaign and the two House races, are competitive. One way to do that? Spend big in New Hampshire. The Trump campaign and the RNC’s joint fundraising committee recently announced it raised $61.7 million in April and has more than $255 million cash-on-hand.
Minimize damage in college towns. There’s a reason New Hampshire Democrats fight so aggressively to ensure out-of-state college kids can vote in New Hampshire. Clinton absolutely crushed Trump in Grafton County (Dartmouth College and Plymouth State University), Cheshire County (Keene State College) and Strafford County (University of New Hampshire). Trump either won or was competitive in the remaining seven counties of the state.
What happens if colleges aren’t open or only offer remote learning during the fall semester? What if enrollment is down due to coronavirus concerns?
These are distinct possibilities and could contribute to a Trump win in the Granite State. Trump and his team need to come up with innovative ways to overcome the tremendous advantage Democrats have in college towns.