▶ Even the state’s Repub­li­can gover­nor says he plans to stay away from the event in Port­land

The National - News - - NEWS | WORLD - DAVID MILL­WARD Portsmouth, New Hamp­shire

Lag­ging in the polls, Don­ald Trump will once again ven­ture out of the White House to ad­dress a rally be­ing held de­spite the ris­ing num­ber of Covid-19 cases in the US, this time in Portsmouth, New Hamp­shire.

But not ev­ery­body in the Gran­ite State will be rolling out the wel­come mat for the US pres­i­dent on Satur­day, with crit­ics ques­tion­ing the wis­dom of hold­ing the rally at a time when coro­n­avirus in­fec­tions are in­creas­ing by more than 50,000 a day.

Mr Trump’s first cam­paign out­ing since the pan­demic hit the US – in Tulsa, Ok­la­homa on June 20 – did not go so well.

The pres­i­dent was greeted by acres of empty seats in the 19,000-ca­pac­ity arena and sev­eral Trump staffers tested pos­i­tive for the virus af­ter the rally, as did at least one re­porter cov­er­ing the event.

Some health ex­perts fear as many as 1,000 peo­ple could have been in­fected.

The Trump cam­paign has sought to re­as­sure peo­ple that pre­cau­tions will be in place at the New Hamp­shire rally, which is be­ing held out­doors at Pease Air Na­tional Guard Base.

At the same time, those at­tend­ing the rally have been told they must sign le­gal waivers ab­solv­ing the cam­paign of re­spon­si­bil­ity should they de­velop Covid-19.

Hand sani­tiser will be pro­vided as well as masks which at­ten­dees are be­ing en­cour­aged, but not com­pelled, to wear.

Chris Su­nunu, New Hamp­shire’s gover­nor, said he would wear a mask when greet­ing Mr Trump, but would not at­tend the rally.

“I’m not go­ing to put my­self in a crowd of thou­sands of peo­ple,” he said. “I try to be ex­tra cau­tious.”

Covid-19 has claimed more than 380 lives in New Hamp­shire. Nev­er­the­less, it is among a hand­ful of states where the num­ber of coro­n­avirus cases has de­clined, and lo­cals would like to keep it that way.

“My con­cern is res­i­dents and busi­nesses have sac­ri­ficed a great deal to man­age the virus to the point that we are start­ing to re­cover,” said Va­lerie Ro­chon, head of the Greater Portsmouth Cham­ber of Com­merce.

“This has come at great cost. We have lost restau­rants and busi­nesses, but we have kept deaths down and we have kept in­fec­tions down. We are one of the few states which are not spik­ing.

“If busi­nesses will have to close down again be­cause of an­other shut­down, some will not come back – they have told me that.”

Mr Trump sees things rather dif­fer­ently, de­spite the coun­try record­ing more than 3.1 mil­lion con­firmed cases and al­most 135,000 deaths.

The US pres­i­dent is des­per­ate to re­open the econ­omy, which he sees as the key to win­ning the elec­tion in Novem­ber.

At times, Mr Trump ap­pears to be at odds with the coun­try’s lead­ing epi­demi­ol­o­gist, An­thony Fauci, who has taken a far more pes­simistic view of how the US is far­ing in the bat­tle against Covid-19.

Mr Trump has even re­fused to wear a mask in pub­lic, flout­ing the med­i­cal ad­vice given by the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s health ex­perts, the same ex­perts who have coun­selled against mass gath­er­ings – such as po­lit­i­cal ral­lies.

Chris Galdieri, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of pol­i­tics at Saint Anselm Col­lege in Manch­ester, New Hamp­shire, said go­ing ahead with the Port­land rally could be prob­lem­atic for the Trump cam­paign.

“The op­tics run the risk of be­ing ter­ri­ble,” he said.

“New Hamp­shire is one of a small num­ber of states where the spread of the disease is slow­ing down.

“The cam­paign says it will en­cour­age peo­ple to wear masks, but no­body will be thrown out – es­pe­cially af­ter there were all those empty seats in Tulsa.”

The lat­est polls show Mr Trump trail­ing for­mer vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, the pre­sump­tive Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, by up to nine points. Alarm­ingly for the pres­i­dent, he is also lag­ging in vi­tal states such as Pennsylvan­ia, Wis­con­sin and Michi­gan.

“If you look at the elec­toral map, he is in real trou­ble,” Mr Galdieri said.

“His cam­paign is try­ing to do some­thing dif­fer­ent and get New Hamp­shire’s four elec­toral col­lege votes.

“The cam­paign is try­ing to keep him happy and a big part of what it is try­ing to do is man­age his moods. If he can be put be­fore a friendly crowd, he will feel bet­ter and more amenable to tak­ing ad­vice.”

Trump loy­al­ists, like Al Bal­dasaro, the co-chair­man of the pres­i­dent’s cam­paign in New Hamp­shire, had no mis­giv­ings about the rally.

“Ev­ery­body is very ex­cited about the pres­i­dent com­ing to New Hamp­shire, show­ing that he cares about us.

“It’s only when there is a Trump rally that the Democrats are con­cerned about the threat of coro­n­avirus.

“They weren’t wor­ried about hun­dreds of peo­ple com­ing to­gether for Black Lives Mat­ter demon­stra­tions.”Ja­son Sul­li­van, a lawyer in Portsmouth, said it was a dif­fi­cult call.

“I can see both sides,” he said. “But there is the First Amend­ment of free­dom of speech and as­sem­bly.

“There isn’t an as­ter­isk in the Con­sti­tu­tion say­ing ‘ex­cept in the case of coro­n­avirus’. Peo­ple are adults and it is up to them whether or not they want to go.”


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is lag­ging be­hind his ri­val, Joe Bi­den, in opin­ion polls

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