MANCHESTER, NH — When Ken Chase thought about who to vote for in the first GOP presidential primary here Tuesday, he didn’t see much choice at all.
“Well, [former President Donald] Trump seems to be the only option,” Chase told a door-knocker from Americans for Prosperity Action.
That’s not what AFP wanted to hear. A conservative group is going door-to-door in early voting states in hopes of persuading primary voters to back former UN ambassador Nikki Haley for president.
But Chase didn’t see Haley pass in the Granite State.
“My wife doesn’t like him. I am neutral,” he said. “Anyone would be better than him [President Joe] Biden. I do not know. I don’t think he can do it.”
It was one of the biggest moments of Haley’s campaign When he gained the official support of the AFP end of last year. It was an endorsement that, among other benefits, opened up a national network of canvassers who would immediately begin knocking on doors across the country to get Haley, then at the polls, rising over the hill.
And perhaps nowhere was that strengthened ground game more important than in New Hampshire, considered the most favorable early state for his candidacy — though still trailing Trump by double digits. state level surveys. It’s a state with large numbers of undeclared voters eligible to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primaries — voters who may be more receptive to Haley’s brand of conservatism over Trump’s “MAGA” policy.
On Friday, NBC News joined AFP Action as it knocked on doors in north Manchester on Haley’s behalf to find out what the organization is up against. Many of the voters who opened their doors had already decided to vote for Trump or Haley in Tuesday’s election. About half a dozen voters reached by AFP Action said they either already supported Haley or were open to supporting Haley, just over half of those who answered their door.
Chris Kordas, a military veteran who said he would support Haley, said, “Not Trump,” when asked about the election at his door. “Not Trump. Everyone but Trump.”
Ultimately, Kordas said, he doesn’t care whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican who wins the presidency this fall, as long as they’re “a good person.” Trump didn’t fit the bill.
“He lies more and more,” she said. “He’s in and out of court all the time and everyone thinks he’s not.”
Kordas said he received a lot of pushback from neighbors in his neighborhood for not supporting Trump, adding that one person said he was “disgraceful to the uniform” for criticizing the former president. Alluding to that race, he noted Trump’s change of tune about Haley’s effectiveness, now criticizing her after praising her as his ambassador to the United Nations.
“He said Nikki Haley was doing a great job,” he said. “Now see what he says about him. He trusted him.”
While campaigning in New Hampshire, Haley is trying to convince the broader Republican electorate that she is more than the choice of those who despise the former president. Supporters at AFP Action also tried to drive home the point.
At a news conference Friday morning, Greg Moore, regional director of AFP Action, said his organization has seen it draw from both conservatives and moderates.
“Some of the narrative is that it’s all moderates for Haley and all conservatives for Trump. I know this is not true,” he said.
Elaine Lanoie, a Manchester voter who voted Republican on Tuesday, said she viewed Haley as a reliable conservative when he arrived at her door on Friday. But he said he was still “100% for Trump.”
“Based on what he’s done while in office,” she said in explaining her support for Trump. “I know he’s selfish. I know he’s a lot of people, you know, he doesn’t speak well. But he did the job.”
AFP Action has contacted more than 210,000 people in New Hampshire since the group’s post-Thanksgiving endorsement, sending 100 volunteers across the state to knock on doors and make phone calls, Moore said.
But as Haley’s allies began to talk about how a strong second-place finish would win for her, Moore said, “If Trump wins by 1 point, I don’t think it’s going to knock Haley out by any stretch of the imagination.”
“Game on,” he said.
Door-knocking has taken center stage in this Republican presidential primary with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ main outside backers, the super PAC Never Back Down, putting him at the center of a multimillion-dollar strategy to help elect him. But for DeSantis did not give the expected result. After finishing second in Iowa — ahead of Haley — he dropped out of the race on Sunday and endorsed Trump.
When it comes to the ground game, Trump has advantages over both. Trump’s goal is simply to turn out as many Trump supporters as possible, while his opponents must not only try to get voters to vote, but also convince them to switch to their candidate. As Trump’s top campaign adviser, Jason Miller, told NBC News last month, “Our opponents have put people in this awkward position to actually go and change their vote and go in a different direction, which is more difficult. raise.”
How effective Republican efforts are remains to be seen. A Extensive investigation by NBC News Some large-scale conservative investigative efforts this year have found problems, including fraudulent and unreliable data entry, though Republicans insist the practice is beneficial when done properly.
Justin Wilson, principal engagement director for AFP Action New Hampshire, who took part in the door-knocking tour, told NBC News on Friday that he was really inspired by the conversations he was able to have with voters across the state. He believes enough voters are buying Haley’s message about the need to limit “chaos” and give the party the best chance to win in November. (In Iowa, Request access to NBC News (Only 11% of Iowa Republican caucus members felt their ability to defeat Biden was most important when supporting the candidate.)
“At the end of the day, it’s about trying to win,” he said. “And I would say that for a very long time, Republicans have tended not to want to win. … I think now is not a good time to try and make something as controversial as possible. We should really go all out on a good, solid candidate. And I don’t think that candidate is Donald Trump.”
With Trump dominating nationally and in early state primary polls, some Haley supporters have pondered the choice they’ll have to make this fall: Trump or Biden.
“I’m not happy,” Haley supporter Joanne said of how she’ll feel about the expected Trump-Biden rematch when she arrives at her door on Friday. “I will not vote for Biden. So I would have to vote for Trump, which I am not satisfied with. But it will [a] Republican.”