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Politics

New Hampshire voters weigh in on the appeal of Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump campaigns in South Carolina.

(Mic Smith / Associated Press)

Taking a break from Christmas shopping, Anthony and Shelia Sirois recently paused for lunch and pondered the presidential candidates storming their state ahead of its first-in-the-nation primary in February.

The New Hampshire couple are independents who lean Democratic and supported President Obama four years ago. Yet among the 2016 candidates they are most intrigued by is businessman-turned-reality-star Donald Trump.

“As crazy as it sounds, he’s a good businessman,” said Shelia Sirois, a 28-year-old restaurant manager. “I’m not saying all his ideas are great, and he seems kind of against women and other races, to say it nicely.”

She added that Trump’s proposal earlier this week to bar Muslims from entering the United States “was really kind of stupid. But I do agree there should be some more processes in place. It just seems like we have an open-door policy.”

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Anthony Sirois added that Trump’s willingness to say exactly what was on his mind was a draw.

“He’s not going to sugarcoat it,” said the 35-year-old mechanic, as he ate pancakes at Manchester’s famed Red Arrow Diner, a must stop on the campaign trail for candidates. “The problem with a lot of them is no one says what they really mean. They just want to say what people want to hear. But we want to hear the honest-to-goodness truth: What are you going to do for us, and what can’t you do for us?”

That phenomenon — voters drawn to Trump who don’t agree with every word he says, but appreciate his candor and his willingness to embrace controversial positions — helps explain his commanding lead in both national polls and surveys in early-voting states like New Hampshire.

The question is: How solid is Trump’s support, and will it be sustained once voters actually start casting ballots.

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Andrew Cline, former editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union-Leader, said some of Trump’s support is driven by his name recognition and by voters who want to send a message to establishment Republicans.

“A certain percentage of those who say they like Trump now, they are going to come to a different calculation in the voting booth in February. The question is how big a percentage,” said Cline, who is backing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Cline added that Trump was viscerally connecting with New Hampshire voters who are fed up with political correctness and blow-dried politicians, not because of what he says but how he says it.

“It’s not necessarily the details of the policy that he’s proposing that attracts people, it’s the strength and the general sort of gut feeling that he connects,” he said.

But even some Republicans tired of status-quo politicians and Washington, D.C., gridlock are alarmed by Trump’s ability to make inroads among voters who disagree with him and with the apparent lack of consequences for his many controversial statements.

“People are so tired of the typical stale packaged politician and he is the antithesis of that, and so people like to hear something fresh and bold and sort of crazy. I don’t think it’s a good sign he’s getting so much interest out there,” said Chris Williams, who runs the Chamber of Commerce in southern New Hampshire. “I am concerned that someone like Donald Trump seems to be getting so much air and support. I do not think he would be good for our country.”

The 40-year-old, who is deciding between former businesswoman Carly Fiorina, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Rubio, has friends who support Trump.

“It makes for some interesting conversations over cocktails when we’re out,” Williams said. “A lot of them say we just want someone to tell it like it is.”

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Daniel Flatley, a sophomore at Saint Anselm College, actively tries to persuade his friends who are Trump supporters to back another candidate, suggesting his campaign slogan — to “Make America Great Again” — may be appealing, but is hopelessly vague.

“He’s never been clear as to what he’s actually going to do,” said the finance major, who is torn between former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Rubio. “He has never said I want to do this to make American great again. He’s just said I’m going to make American great again. I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it.”

For the latest 2016 campaign news, follow @LATSeema on Twitter.

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