MANCHESTER, N.H. — In late January, the New Hampshire Republican Party held a gathering that attracted GOP officials, volunteers, activists, and various other members of the party elite from across the state. At the time, Donald Trump led the Republican presidential race in New Hampshire by nearly 20 points, and had been on top of the polls since July.
What was extraordinary about the gathering was that I talked to a lot of people there, politically active Republicans, and most of them told me they personally didn't know anyone who supported Trump. Asked about the Trump lead, one very well-connected New Hampshire Republican told me, "I don't see it. I don't feel it. I don't hear it, and I spend part of every day with Republican voters."
Readers of the story came to one of two conclusions. Either New Hampshire Republican leaders were so out of touch that they couldn't tell something huge was happening right under their noses, or there really weren't very many Trump voters, and the Trump phenomenon was a mirage that would fade before election day.
Now, with Trump's smashing victory in the New Hampshire primary, we know the answer. There really were a lot of Trump voters out there, and party officials could not, or did not want, to see them.
And what an astonishingly varied group of voters Trump attracted. At his victory celebration in Manchester Tuesday night, I met a young woman, Alexis Chiparo, who four years ago was an Obama-voting member of MoveOn.org. Now she is the Merrimack County chair of the Trump campaign.
"We just delivered Concord!" Chiparo told me excitedly. "We were getting a really excellent response from a very interesting swath of voters — veterans, disabled people, elderly people, women, blue-collar workers."
They were joined, it appears, by an even wider group of their fellow New Hampshirites. According to exit polls, Trump won among men, and he won among women. He won all age groups. All income groups. Urban, suburban, rural. Every issue group. Gun owners and non-gun owners. Voters who call themselves very conservative and those who call themselves moderates.
In short, Trump won everybody.
And he did it in a way that's hard to diminish. In the days before the primary, scores of out-of-town journalists and visiting politicos debated among themselves how to set the rules for the "expectations game." Say Trump won but underperformed his polling, as he did in Iowa; some observers thought he might fall to 25 or 26 percent. And then say some other candidate in second or third place did better than expected. What would the numbers have to be before the opinion makers would declare the other candidate the real winner of the New Hampshire primary? Conversely, how high Trump would have to score before the commentariat would concede that he really won?
In the end, it wasn't even a question. The last RealClearPolitics average of polls before election day had Trump at 31.2 percent, leading his closest rival by 17.2 points. With most of the votes counted, Trump will finish around 35 percent, with an 18-point lead over second-place John Kasich.
The Trump supporters who came to the election night party — they waited outside for a long time in 22-degree weather — saw something unique in his blend of personality and positions on issues.
"I haven't believed in the system in so long, and now it's time for a change," said Muriel Labrie, of Manchester, who is 51 and says she has never voted before Tuesday's primary. "I feel Trump is going to kick ass and take care of us the way our country should be taken care of."
"He speaks from the heart, and he keeps America very close to his heart," said Dan Barter, of Raymond, who described himself as a lifelong Democrat.
"He's outspoken, and he's not afraid to stand up to the establishment," said Dawn Petruzziello, of Manchester.
Dawn's husband Angelo cited the economy and immigration as his reasons for supporting Trump. Angelo is an immigrant himself, he explained; his parents came to the United States from Italy when he was two, after waiting seven years to come here legally. Looking at immigration now, Angelo said, "They've got to fix that, because it's so unfair and it's so wrong."
By the way, Dawn and Angelo told me they made their decision to vote for Trump just yesterday, after attending Trump's election-eve rally at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. Before that, they had been leaning toward Marco Rubio.
During that state GOP meeting a couple of weeks ago, I asked former Gov. John Sununu, a man with a lifetime of knowledge about New Hampshire politics, if he knew any Trump supporters. Sununu pondered the question for a minute and said he thought a man who lived down the street from him might be for Trump.
Immediately after the story was published, I got an email from a real estate executive and former member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives named Lou Gargiulo, who happens to live down the street from Sununu. "I'm the guy!" Gargiulo told me. "Not only do I support Mr. Trump, I am the Rockingham County chairman of his campaign. The governor would be shocked to know that many of his other neighbors are Trump supporters as well."
I looked for Gargiulo at Trump's victory party Tuesday night. It turned out he was still working the polls in Rockingham County, so I asked him via email why he thought so many members of the state Republican power structure were unable to recognize the extent of Trump's support.
"I think like most establishment Republicans, they thought if they kept promoting the narrative that Trump was a passing fancy and he would collapse, it would happen," Gargiulo told me. "But this phenomena is the result of 25+ years of failed promises and lackluster leadership over multiple administrations from both parties. People have had it, and those in power don't want to accept the reality they can no longer maintain the status quo."