Mogul Builds Ground Game
By Matt Stout
Beyond the bluster, Donald Trump is building a battle plan to win the ground game in first-in-the-nation primary state New Hampshire — networking with local activists and relying on a campaign manager with Granite State roots.
“In terms of Trump reaching out to activists and grass-roots people — or whatever you call us — they have done that,” state Rep. Pam Tucker, a Greenland Republican who has remained neutral in the race. “He is doing the background work. ... They have county chairs in every county. That doesn’t happen overnight.”
At the core of the key primary effort is Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s $20,000-a-month national campaign manager — a 1995 University of Massachusetts Lowell grad who still lives in Windham, N.H.
Heavily funded with a billionaire candidate in the field, the Trump troops are energized by his top-of-the-polls status and rock-star rallies.
“You have all these political pundits who say this or that about the campaign. But they cannot deny the fact that Mr. Trump has the best crowds, the most enthusiastic support,” Lewandowski said. “But it’s not just been a series of events.”
In the end, the campaign manager said, Trump will benefit from the relationships the candidate is forging.
The 41-year-old said Trump met privately with U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, and as recently as last week huddled with about a dozen local state representatives to outline his campaign.
The moves come as Trump largely remains a thorn in the Republican Party’s side in the eyes of many of its leaders and candidates, who must face him at the Aug. 6 Fox News debate.
Ayotte, the state’s most high-profile Republican, was among those to slam Trump for his criticism of U.S. Sen. John McCain’s war record. But her office confirmed yesterday that they did meet in April before the First in the Nation Summit in Nashua, which an aide described as “cordial.”
As Trump networks with the officials and activists so important in New Hampshire’s primary process, he is strengthened on the ground as well by Lewandowski’s relationships.
Among the campaign manager’s allies are Josh Youssef, a former state Senate candidate he helped back and who is now a county chairman for Trump, and Lou Gargiulo, another county co-chairman. Matt Ciepielowski, Trump’s state director and one of eight paid staffers in New Hampshire, is an Americans for Prosperity alum like Lewandowski, who headed the New Hampshire operation for the Koch brothers’ group for several years.
“Corey was pretty blunt, outspoken. When he worked for AFP, that’s how he operated,” said state Sen. Jeb Bradley, who has yet to back a candidate in the GOP primary fight. “It was take no prisoners. If AFP disagreed with you, they let you know.”
Lewandowski said the Trump campaign will continue its straight-talking approach.
“I want to be clear, I am not anywhere in the same category of Mr. Trump in that regard,” he said, “but I think if you look at my record, I have been a person who has been unafraid to talk about issues that most didn’t want to talk or didn’t want me to bring up. Mr. Trump is a person who has never been afraid to say what is right. I’m fortunate that my career has brought me to this point.”