At a high school cafeteria in Merrimack, NH, on Tuesday, where patriotic music blasted from the speakers and the lunch tables were decorated with star-studded clothing, Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota mingled with families digging into eggs, sausage and pancakes at a Fourth of July breakfast hosted by the local Rotary Club.
Nelson Disco, 88, one of the prospective voters in the small crowd, had some questions for him. What did he run for? And with which party?
“You’ve got some competition,” Mr. Disco exclaimed, as the North Dakota governor told him he was seeking the Republican nomination for president.
But Mr. Burgum didn’t let up: “Feeling great” about the race, he said.
It was the final Fourth of July before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation Republican primary, set for February, and the famous kingmaking caucuses in Iowa—plenty of time to make up ground, but it was clear for the darkest of dark horses that they were burning. shoe leather on Tuesday that there was a lot of ground to make up.
Some better known competitors were in New Hampshire as well. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, who is a distant second in the Republican primary polls to former President Donald J. Trump, walked in two parades, including one that also drew Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is still well back in. the package The weather was less than pleasant: Mr. DeSantis, Mr. Scott and others walking in the afternoon parade in Merrimack, NH, were drenched when a downpour swept through.
Independence Day campaigning is a tradition in New Hampshire and Iowa, as old as the caucuses and the primary election in those states. That would be more than a century of front-runners and also-rans at the Granite State’s parades, picnics and pancake breakfasts. This year, however, there was a twist: the prohibitionist front-runner, Mr. Trump, skipped the hunts, staying at home with his family and firing vulgar posts on social media.
However, the helpers of his campaign and his own thick shadow continued to hang heavily over his competition.
In Urbandale, Iowa, where Mr Trump’s former vice president and current rival, Mike Pence, marched in the parade, onlookers broke into chants – “Trump, Trump, Trump” – as he passed.
Melody Krejci, 60, of Urbandale, said: “My whole family is Trump supporters, even down to our apps. They also wear Trump clothes and Trump hats.” There are also posters of Trump in their rooms, she said.
She added, “I think Pence is a coward,” referring to the mistaken belief, still pushed by Mr. Trump, that his vice president could have rejected enough electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021, to return the 2020 election. to the states, and eventually overturn the victory of Joseph R. Biden Jr.
In the old days — before super PACs flooded the airwaves, social media brought politicians’ messages straight to voters’ smartphones and partisans were glued to their favorite cable news programs — showing up on the Fourth of July really mattered.
“Retail has always been mostly theater, but now it’s all about performing for the cameras, not about meeting regular people and listening to their concerns,” said Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee.
This year, Mr Trump’s rivals hoped it would still matter. In Merrimack, NH, volunteers and supporters supporting Mr. DeSantis waited to walk with their candidate in the Fourth of July parade there, standing near a dance troupe in hot pink shirts, a wooden float filled with members of the Bektash Shrine Clowns and a yellow school bus. decorated like the Boston Tea Party boat.
But it was another Republican presidential hopeful, Mr. Scott, who first caused a stir by appearing on the parade route, followed by a swarm of photographers and television cameras.
“Hopefully some of those voters will become our voters,” Mr. Scott told reporters when asked his thoughts on the people in DeSantis and Trump gear who came to shake his hand. “But at the end of the day, we thank God that we have people committed to the country, committed to the concept that conservative values always work.”
Outside a pancake breakfast in Merrimack, NH, former representative Will Hurd of Texas and his wife, Lynlie Wallace, mingled with runners at a road race.
Mr. Hurd, a moderate Republican and fierce critic of Mr. Trump who is trying to get his fledgling presidential campaign out of the starting gate, said he had just finished touring the northern border near Vermont, which he said was facing similar problems. . on the southern border in his home state: low resources and increased drug trafficking. Those were the kinds of things he wanted to deal with, he said. But for now, he added, he was just happy to be out shaking hands.
“Today is all about meeting people, right?” Mr. Hurd said. “Not all doom scrolls on social media or consumes cable news.”
And Trump? “I’m sure people are thankful he didn’t get out,” he said. “He comes with a lot of baggage.”
If there were glimmers of hope for the dark horses, it came from voter acknowledgment of that baggage, which now includes criminal charges in New York related to the payment of hush money to a porn star and federal felony charges in Miami charging him with abuse of a high degree. classified documents and thwarting the government’s efforts to retrieve them.
In Iowa, Jim Miller, 73, sat along the parade route from Urbandale with his wife and other family members. He said he voted for Mr. Trump twice but was disappointed by his attitude. He wants a candidate who puts being an American before being a Republican or a Democrat.
Asked to compare Mr Pence to Mr Trump, Mr Miller said: “Not even close. I’d take Pence any day.”
As for Mr. Burgum, he expressed an understanding of how steep his climb would be to even enter contention for his party’s presidential nomination. The name recognition challenge is “well-known,” he said. But he also noted that people underestimated him when he left a lifelong career in the private sector to run for governor in 2016.
He won that race by 20 percentage points, and he has not been seriously challenged in North Dakota since.
Not everyone was in the dark during his campaign. A volunteer, Maureen Tracey, 55, ran up from the back of the room to ask for a selfie with him. She said she liked Mr. Burgum because, like Mr. Trump, he seemed “different from a politician.” But unlike Mr. Trump, she added, Mr. Burgum appeared to be someone she could trust.
Mr. Trump “has hurt too many people, and when you hurt that many people, there is no trust,” Ms. Tracey said.
Mr. Burgum, contrasting himself with the most high-profile Republican in the race, Mr. Trump, without mentioning him, said he decided to run because the country needed a leader who would work for every American, regardless of political affiliation.
“Republicans, Independents, Democrats — they all drive on American roads, they all go to American schools, they all get health care in America,” he said. “Today is the day to really think about that.”
Ann Hinga Klein contributed reporting from Urbandale, Iowa.