What we learned from months on the ground before New Hampshire’s primary

Republicans Marlo Devir and Christy Carlson, who both voted for Trump in 2020, highlighted that line as something that resonated with them. 

“I do agree to some extent that it follows [Trump] a little bit, and there’s a little bit of — she called it ‘chaos,’ and I don’t disagree with that, honestly,” Devir said.

Carlson said: “It’s not calling into question the policies and procedures that he was able to put in place. She made it about the chaos, and that was brilliant, because if people out there start thinking about it in that way, it will shift some of the thinking.”

There are voters who absolutely adore Haley. Carrol Horrocks, whom NBC News spoke to in Bedford in September, is a retired assistant school superintendent. She called Haley “courageous” and “convincing.”

“She’s so fluent in all of the problems that we are experiencing both domestically and internationally,” Horrocks said. “She has logical ideas on how to solve them. She’s scrappy. She’s got my vote.”

But others speak more about Trump when it comes to their motivations. Gary Misiaszek, who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, doesn’t plan to support him this time around. “If he gets elected for the Republican nomination, I fear that the Democrats are going to win,” Misiaszek said this month.

The strategy of picking your vote

The New Hampshire stereotype is that voters take their responsibility seriously — and many, especially those who don’t like Trump, really have spent nearly a year weighing how best to strategically use their power.

Julia Matte, 21, an undeclared voter, believes it is “critical” to vote with “intention” in every election.

“A vote for a moderate like Nikki Haley in the primary may not mean that is my intended vote in the general election for president, but rather simply a vote for her as the Republican nominee in order to curtail Trump’s runaway lead,” Matte said. “A collection of like-minded voters, voting with intention, supporting a less popular candidate, could very well have the power to shift the course of the rest of the race.”  

Nathan Seal, another undeclared voter, said he plans to vote for Haley on Tuesday because “the Democratic Party is not running a worthwhile primary — and I believe she has the best shot at beating Trump.” 

Hella Ross was among thousands of voters who changed their Democratic voter registrations to be able to participate in the GOP primary. “The whole point was to stop Trump and make sure he’s not the nominee,” Ross said. 

Ross and her friend Thalia Floras switched their registrations from Democratic to undeclared and plan to vote for Haley. 

“If you told me a year ago that I would even be considering Nikki Haley, I would tell you you were crazy,” Floras said.

Besides Trump, Christie may have inspired the most loyalty among his supporters

Christie, who dropped out of the race 13 days before the primary, spent most of his time in New Hampshire, never setting foot in Iowa this election cycle. 

And his committed anti-Trump campaign won him a small but committed following, with at least one voter still planning to back him even though he’s out of the race.

Gary Goudreau, a loyal Christie supporter, plans to vote for him after he decided he couldn’t back Haley. Christie criticized Haley on the trail for saying she’d pardon Trump if he was found guilty on some of the charges he faces later this year.

“I can’t vote for Trump or anyone who would support or pardon him,” Goudreau said. 

Some of Christie’s voters will migrate to Haley, though. The night Christie dropped out, Toni Pappas said she felt “confused and sad,” saying she had “no idea what I’m going to do next in terms of which candidate I’ll support.”

She now plans to support Haley, saying she respects Gov. Chris Sununu’s endorsement.

Even when he was doing better, DeSantis never really caught on

Some of the earliest warning signs for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who dropped out of the presidential race two days before the New Hampshire primary, came as he tried to break through as a staunch conservative in a moderate state.

It was the first state where Haley had caught him in the polls, and his record on abortion and other policy issues in Florida led to questions from voters in a state where the GOP electorate leans more moderate than Iowa’s. Ultimately, DeSantis’ campaign moved money and resources into Iowa in search of momentum there. His campaign never aired a TV ad in New Hampshire, according to AdImpact.

And the single-digit support he had left in polls when he dropped out illustrated the squeeze he faced: Pro-Trump voters were sticking with the former president, while those looking for a new direction migrated to Haley.

Yet a few DeSantis loyalists plan to vote for him even though he suspended his campaign. 

Before DeSantis dropped out, Kalup Veneman, 45, said DeSantis was his top choice because “he’s done a lot in Florida, and I think he’ll get it done for America.” 

Veneman still plans to vote for DeSantis in the primary. “I’ll vote for President Trump in the general election as long as he doesn’t pick Haley for vice president,” he said.

Biden has a restless base to placate ahead of November

On the Democratic side, the big story this primary cycle has been the Democratic National Committee’s efforts to supplant New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary with a contest in South Carolina, even though New Hampshire state law requires the state to go first. 

Because of those efforts, New Hampshire is going forward with an unsanctioned contest — and Biden won’t be on the ballot. Voters in New Hampshire who wish to vote for him will have to write in his name.

Even people who are actively campaigning to write in Biden are unhappy with his and the DNC’s decision.

Luz Bay, who turned her 60th birthday party this month into a house party for the write-in effort, which the Biden campaign isn’t participating in, said: “My knee-jerk reaction? Well, screw them.”

But, she added, “we’re going to do it in New Hampshire, because New Hampshire, we support Biden. And if we can’t do it in a regular way, then we’ll do it in a way so that we still get to have him win in New Hampshire.”

Walter King, 73, is choosing to write in Biden because of “his record of accomplishments.” However, he said it was “extremely disappointing” that Biden isn’t on the ballot.

It’s the beginning of a year when Democrats and left-leaning voters across the country will have to decide whether to come home to Biden in the general election despite varying degrees of unhappiness over different policy areas and what he has done in office.

And in New Hampshire, the primary is a parochial issue that has been layered on top of that. Many voters from both parties have been disappointed and angry that the state’s coveted first-primary status has been challenged.

Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., and Marianne Williamson, who are on the ballot challenging Biden, have leaned into criticizing the primary change, including blasting the DNC over a letter in which it called the primary “meaningless.”

Phillips said at a debate with Williamson, “I hope it goes in the National Archives on display, because I think it’s one of the most egregious affronts to democracy I’ve ever seen in my entire lifetime as an American.”

Williamson said there was “candidate suppression going on here.”

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