New Hampshire voters now feel ‘Trumpgret’

President Donald Trump talks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

When Chad Johansen voted for Donald Trump in 2016, he hoped he was picking someone who could help small-business owners compete with bigger companies. But that hasn’t happened, and now the 26-year-old owner of NH iPhone Repair feels what he calls “Trumpgret.”

The Republican president has done little to address health care issues for a small employer, he said, and the Manchester man remains on edge about how Trump’s tariffs could affect his business, which employs fewer than 10 people. Beyond that, he said, unrelenting news about bigotry and racism in the Trump administration is “a turnoff.”

“The president’s supposed to be the face of the United States of America,” said Johansen, who voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2012. “And supposed to make everyone be proud to be an American and stand up for everyone who is an American. And I don’t feel that President Trump’s doing that. I feel like it’s chaos.”

That sentiment is concerning for Trump as he travels to New Hampshire on Thursday for a reelection rally. The state, which he lost by about 2,700 votes in 2016, is doing well economically, at least when using broad measures. But beneath the top-line data are clear signs that the prosperity is being unevenly shared, and when the tumult of the Trump presidency is added to the mix, the state’s flinty voters may not be receptive to his appeals.

Trouble in the bond market on Wednesday raised fresh concerns about a recession on the horizon.

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 receives the president on Thursday will offer 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.”

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AP Economics Writer Josh Boak and AP Polling Editor Emily Swanson contributed to this report.
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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Ultimately, voters will decide Trump’s future

Former special counsel Robert Mueller returns to the witness table following a break in his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Robert Mueller’s testimony Wednesday sent the clearest signal yet that impeachment may be slipping out of reach for Democrats and that the ultimate verdict on President Donald Trump will be rendered by voters in the 2020 election.

Democrats had hoped the former special counsel’s appearance would be a turning point. A Marine who served in Vietnam, Mueller is the kind of square-jawed federal prosecutor to whom Americans may have once listened as a trusted source of authority. But in this era of stark political polarization, galvanizing the public is a difficult task even if Mueller wanted to produce a viral moment, which he never seemed inclined to do. Rather than swoop in to give voice to the 448-page report, Mueller said very few words.

What Mueller did say was striking: Trump was not exonerated of potential crimes. His report found Russia interfered in the 2016 election in “sweeping and systematic” fashion. Accepting foreign campaign assistance is wrong, he agreed. But Mueller’s reluctance to engage, and his one-word answers, deprived the country of a where-were-you-when moment that could bring decisive conclusion to the probe and Trump’s role in trying to obstruct the investigation.

“It was not a hoax,” Mueller testified of Russian election interference.

The result, after more than six hours at the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, was that the sides in Washington were retrenching to their familiar outposts, leaving voters to decide what to do next.

Trump derided Mueller’s appearance — “disaster,” he tweeted — and started fundraising off it. The president’s reelection campaign set a $2 million goal over 24 hours, it said, to counter those trying to “TRICK the American People into believing their LIES.”

Allies of the White House quickly joined in. GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called Mueller’s appearance “sad.” Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the Intelligence panel, said the hearing was the “last gasp” of the investigation.

“It’s time for the curtain to close on the Russia hoax,” Nunes said. “The conspiracy theory is dead.”

Much was riding on Mueller’s appearance, coming months after the release of his report in April. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is weighing liberal calls for impeachment against her own instincts for a more measured approach investigating the Trump administration and laying out the findings.

Activists on the party’s left flank have been impatient with what they see as Pelosi’s slow-walking of impeachment — but they’ve also been deferential to her strategy. More than 85 House Democrats have called for the House to begin impeachment proceedings, and more lawmakers are expected to add their names after Mueller’s testimony.

Yet even though Democrats hold the House majority, they’re far from the 218 votes that would be needed to approve articles of impeachment. With Republicans controlling the Senate, many Democrats warn moving forward is a political dead end.

“If we have a case for impeachment, that’s the place we will have to go,” Pelosi said afterward.

Mueller, in his testimony, didn’t push the issue any further. While Mueller’s team declined to prosecute the president, in part because of a Justice Department opinion against indicting a sitting president, the report also suggested other remedies, including in Congress. Asked about impeachment as an option Wednesday, Mueller refused to comment on it.

The former special counsel was always going to be a reluctant witness who wanted his report to speak for itself. Democrats knew what they would encounter even if they were hoping for a Mueller of a different vintage, from his time leading the FBI after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Instead, they saw a less forceful public presence, hard of hearing at times, hesitant to answer many of the questions, but one still skilled enough in the ways of Washington to not read his report in a way that Democrats could exploit.

When Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., asked if Mueller would read a certain section from the report, Mueller turned the tables: “I’m happy to have you read it.”

Republicans had their own expectations and tried to portray Mueller as an actor in an elaborate attempt to undermine Trump’s election. Their revived their long-running theory about the origins of the report during Hillary Clinton’s campaign and posed questions that seemed well designed to be replayed on conservative media, even if they, too, found Mueller’s answers were not entirely fulfilling.

It had all the trappings of a classic Washington political drama, yet brought little closure.

Even if Mueller had been a more eager player, he may not have been able to make a more convincing case. Gone are the Watergate-era hearings, when lawmakers crossed party lines to engage critically over then-President Richard Nixon. The impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton changed that dynamic, and the partisan divide since has only deepened to a point of rupturing whatever’s left of political comity.

Still, Mueller’s appearance was far from a political loss for either party. Ahead of the 2020 election, both are trying to reach the slice of Americans who have not hardened to partisan positions.

A June poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found 31% of Americans said they didn’t know enough to say whether Mueller’s report had completely cleared Trump of coordination with Russia and 30% didn’t know whether it had not completely cleared Trump of obstruction. A CNN poll found that just 3% said they had read the whole report.

Perhaps Mueller’s testimony, with his button-down lawyer’s approach, reached some of them.

As voters consider what they’ll do, Mueller did leave them with one definitive point — a warning about what happened in 2016 and a plea that they pay attention to what may be coming.

“Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a number of challenges to our democracy,” Mueller said. “The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious. … This deserves the attention of every American.”

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AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro has covered Congress since 2010.

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Stirring up enthusiasm for midterms

Betty L. Petty of Sunflower County Parents and Students United, addresses a meeting of the Black Voters Matter Fund and several Mississippi grassroots organizations at MACE, Mississippi Action for Community Education, headquarters in Greenville, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

They’re asking pastors to text their congregants about the importance of voting. They’re connecting with thousands of Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria. And they’re relying on groups like the NAACP, which has tripled its spending from 2016 to energize black voters.

Less than three weeks before Election Day, Democrats are sparing nothing to make sure their voters head to the polls. It’s all part of an effort to avoid the disappointment of previous elections when low turnout dashed high expectations.

“2016 was a low point for a lot of us,” said Jamal Watkins, vice president of engagement at the NAACP. “People have awakened and said, ‘Wait a minute, we can’t lose, and we can’t lose like this.’ Folks are fired up to reinvest in turnout.”

Younger voters and voters of color tend to stay home in non-presidential elections, making the midterm electorate older, whiter and more Republican-tilting. But that could change this year, Democrats and outside groups say, if unprecedented efforts to reach so-called infrequent voters galvanize people who previously sat on the sidelines.

Democrats have reason for optimism: The party saw strong turnout in nearly a dozen federal special elections ahead of the midterms, with Democratic candidates consistently outperforming Republicans.

But the organizing flurry comes amid concerns over ballot access and election security, which have become a flashpoint in the high-profile gubernatorial race in Georgia. There is also mounting anxiety about whether efforts to mobilize Latino voters will translate into votes, particularly in several key races in heavily Latino districts.

The party is spending big to ward against such threats.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s arm focused on House races, is spending more than $25 million in 45 battleground districts to mobilize female voters, millennials, African-Americans and Hispanics, officials said. That’s a far more significant investment than past cycles.

The committee is putting an emphasis on turning out African-American women, including running advertising focused on black women ages 18-39 in more than 40 districts. The DCCC has also run Spanish-language TV and radio ads across the country.

Between field efforts and paid media, voters of color in targeted swing districts will have heard from the DCCC more than 100 times in the closing 60 days of the election. And in a twist, some of the outreach this year will be facilitated by local community leaders instead of anonymous politicos.

“As an example of the local voter contact and text messaging program that we are doing, we are partnering with a series of pastors and local validators across the country,” said DCCC Executive Director Dan Sena. “When you’re getting a text message saying ‘hey – early vote’s starting,’ you’re not getting it from someone in Washington D.C. You’re actually getting it from somebody in Georgia that has a big delegation, or you’re getting it from someone on campus that you know.”

The Democratic National Committee also beefed up its voter database, purchasing 94 million cellphone numbers, according to a DNC official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy. The official said the additional cell phone numbers have helped with voter contact in key races across the country, including encouraging sporadic voters to participate.

Republicans say they have their own well-organized, well-funded turnout machine that dwarfs Democrats’ efforts.

A Republican National Committee aide said the organization has raised more than $250 million this cycle, invested in 28 states, more than 540 paid staffers and thousands of volunteers who are focused on turning out Republicans who don’t vote often and swing voters who participate more frequently. The committee raised more than $150 million during roughly the same period ahead of the 2014 midterms. The aide said the RNC has made more than 50 million voter contacts, either over the phone or by going door-to-door

The Democratic organization effort goes beyond the traditional party structure.

NextGen America, the advocacy group backed by billionaire environmentalist and donor Tom Steyer, is injecting more money into a closing push to rally young voters. The group will spend more than $4 million on digital ads across 11 states, targeting more than 4.3 million young voters. NextGen is also running the first political ads on Twitch, a popular video streaming service, as well as places like Reddit, Spotify and Pandora.

“Young people in general feel like they’ve really been shut out of the system,” said Aleigha Cavalier, a spokeswoman for NextGen America. “Our goal with digital is to find a message that works for them and actually put it where their eyeballs will see it.”

The Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Votes PAC launched a more than $2 million campaign across eight key races spanning digital, direct mail, text and phone voter contact.

The NAACP’s campaign is targeting more than 5 million “infrequent” black voters, including in the key states of Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, in a $6 million voter mobilization push, up from $2 million spent on mobilization in 2016. The push includes upward of 20 staffers focused on mobilizing black voters, the majority of those, according to Watkins, working in key states with thousands of on-the-ground volunteers.

In Georgia, the organization is targeting more than 700,000 “infrequent” voters. In Florida, the number swells to more than 900,000.

The NAACP is not the only group that’s boosting its turnout effort. The AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, also shifted its strategy. Julie Greene, who is leading the union’s mobilization efforts, said that in 2014 and 2016, the union experimented with an independent expenditure program that had more of a focus on the general public, rather than the union’s member-to-member program. The union found that its members had not turned out in support of labor-endorsed candidates at the same levels as in the past.

The union now hopes to increase turnout among its members by 5 percent, up from 57 percent in 2014. But it is also investing significantly in mobilizing Hispanic and African-American voters. Last week, the union announced plans to air ads on African-American and Spanish-language radio in 26 media markets. The buy is in the high six figures, according to an AFL-CIO official, and will air in English and Spanish through the November election.

“With so many seats being up, what we knew was every vote was going to count,” Greene said. “As a person of color, a young African-American woman, it was important for me to make sure with the resources we were putting out there, we were also reaching out to those communities who are our strongest allies: Those were brown and black communities.”

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Rep. Manchin under fire on vote for Kavanaugh

Sen. Joe Manchin, center, speaks to John Heron and Connie Hill about his recent vote in the Senate to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, at an IHOP restaurant in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/Tyler Evert)

Danielle Walker cried on Joe Manchin’s shoulder after she shared her story of sexual assault in the senator’s office. She thought he listened.

The 42-year-old Morgantown woman said she was both devastated and furious when Manchin became the only Democrat in the U.S. Senate to support President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

“I feel raped all over again,” Walker told The Associated Press.

A day after Manchin broke with his party on what may be the most consequential vote of the Trump era, the vulnerable Democrat is facing a political firestorm back home. While Republicans — including one of the president’s sons — are on the attack, the most passionate criticism is coming from Manchin’s very own Democratic base, a small but significant portion of the electorate he needs to turn out in force to win re-election next month. A Manchin loss would put his party’s hopes of regaining control of the Senate virtually out of reach.

Walker, a first-time Democratic candidate for the state legislature, said she may not vote at all in the state’s high-stakes Senate election. Julia Hamilton, a 30-year-old educator who serves on the executive committee of the Monongalia County Democratic Party, vowed to sit out the Senate race as well.

“At some point you have to draw a line,” Hamilton said. “I have heard from many, many people — especially women. They won’t be voting for Manchin either.”

Manchin defended his vote in a Sunday interview as being based on fact, not emotion. He praised the women who shared their stories of sexual trauma, Walker among them, but said he “could not find any type of link or connection” that Kavanaugh was a rapist.

The woman who testified to the Senate about Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford, accused him of sexual assault but not rape when they were high school students more than 30 years ago. Two other women stepped forward late in the confirmation process to accuse the appeals court judge of sexual misconduct in high school or college. Their stories resonated with women who had suffered sexual trauma and fueled opposition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

“They weren’t going to be satisfied, or their healing process, until we convicted this person,” Manchin told The Associated Press. “I couldn’t do it. You talk about two wrongs trying to make a right. It just wasn’t in my heart and soul to do that.”

Manchin insisted over and over that his vote wasn’t based on politics.

There is little doubt, however, that his vote was in line with the wishes of many West Virginia voters, who gave Trump a victory in 2016 by 42 percentage points. There simply aren’t enough Democrats in the state to re-elect Manchin. He needs a significant chunk of Trump’s base to win.

One West Virginia Trump supporter, 74-year-old Linda Ferguson, explained the politics bluntly as she watched the parade at Saturday’s Mountain State Forest Festival in Elkins.

“If he didn’t vote for Kavanaugh he could have kissed his seat goodbye,” Ferguson said.

While he may have represented the majority of his state, Manchin’s political challenges are far from over.

The clash over Kavanaugh, who was confirmed by the Senate on Saturday, has injected new energy into each party’s political base. While that may help Democrats in their fight for the House majority, which is largely taking place in America’s suburbs, there are signs it’s hurting vulnerable Democrats in rural Republican-leaning states like North Dakota, Missouri and West Virginia. Phil Bredesen, who said he would have voted for Kavanaugh, could also face new challenges in his bid to flip Tennessee’s Senate seat to the Democratic column.

For much of the year, Manchin has held a significant lead in public and private polls over his Republican opponent, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Yet Republican operatives familiar with the race report a definite tightening over the last week.

In an interview, Morrisey called Democrats’ fight against Kavanaugh a “three-ring circus” that “energized a lot of people in West Virginia.”

He acknowledged that Manchin voted the right way for the state, but called the vote “irrelevant” because another swing vote, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, had already given Kavanaugh the final vote he needed.

“He waited until the last possible minute after Susan Collins declared for him to take a position, effectively allowing Maine to decide how West Virginia’s going to decide,” Morrisey charged. “We shouldn’t reward that kind of cowardice.”

Echoing the attack, Donald Trump Jr., mockingly called Manchin “a real profile in courage” on Twitter.

When asked about the social media jab, the West Virginia senator slapped away the insult from the younger Trump.

Donald Trump Jr. is “entitled to his opinion, he’s just not entitled to his own facts to justify what he’s saying. He doesn’t really know anything,” Manchin told the AP.

The Democrat conceded that he followed Collins’ lead out of “respect” — he didn’t want to get in the way of her high-profile Friday afternoon announcement on the Senate floor.

“Nothing would have changed my vote,” Manchin declared. “Susan took the lead, Susan did the due diligence. … She’s going to give her speech and I’m not going to jump in front of 3 o’clock. I’m just not going to do it.”

That wasn’t good enough for Tammy Means, a 57-year-old florist from Charleston, who was among thousands tailgating outside West Virginia University’s football stadium in Morgantown on Saturday.

Means, a registered Democrat who voted for Trump, said she also voted for Manchin in the past.

“I’m not going to anymore. Nope,” she said with a laugh as she sipped a Smirnoff Ice. She’s glad Manchin voted for Kavanaugh, but said, “He’s just doing it so he can get elected.”

Across the parking lot, 63-year-old John Vdovjac said he was deeply disappointed by Manchin’s vote. Still, the Democrat said he’d probably vote for Manchin this fall.

“I recognize the position he’s in because the state’s heavily Republican now,” said Vdovjac, a retired educator from Wheeling, as he helped grill hotdogs and hamburgers. “But he’s lost my loyalty.

Manchin knows he needs to explain his vote to his constituents, although he didn’t have any public events scheduled this weekend. Before and after the AP interview, conducted at Charleston’s International House of Pancakes, he told everyone who would listen — including his waitress — that his Kavanaugh vote was not based on emotion.

“I made my decision based on facts,” the senator told Kevin Estep, a 57-year-old registered Democrat and Trump voter who was eating buttered pancakes with his family.

“You hang in there and vote your heart,” Estep, who lives in nearby St. Albans, told the senator.

After Manchin left the building, Estep warned that the #MeToo movement “is like a dam that’s about to break open.”

Asked whether he’d support Manchin this fall, he responded, “Always.”

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Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved