LITTLETON — The Vice President’s nephew spoke to a group of two dozen Republicans outside of Schilling Beer Co. on Tuesday.

“President [Donald] Trump is ready to put America first,” said John Pence, one of Trump’s senior campaign advisers. “What is at stake in 49 days? I would submit that freedom is on the ballot.”

The event was billed as a “MAGA Meetup.” It reflects a strategy shift, a turn to grassroots campaigning, as the President trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden in most state and national polls.

New Hampshire Republican volunteers have made 840,000 phone calls and knocked on 330,000 doors during the current election cycle.

“The energy we’re seeing now is unprecedented,” said second congressional candidate Steve Negron.

Pence concurred, “I can tell you the grassroots operation that has been built here since President Trump took office is one for the history books.”

That claim cannot be verified. But one thing is almost certainly true: This is the most hotly-contested election in generations. It has become an increasingly partisan contest, set against the twin backdrops of the pandemic and social unrest.

Which begs the question, what does a rough-and-tumble battle in Washington mean in politically genteel New Hampshire?

Helping to provide that answer were two Republican candidates for the New Hampshire House: Coos 7 incumbent Troy Merner of Lancaster and Grafton 15 challenger David Binford of Bath.

“I TRY TO GET ALONG WITH EVERYBODY”

Merner is a political moderate who switched parties eight years ago because he felt Democrats had abandoned labor concerns and working-class voters. However he maintains across-the-aisle relationships with his liberal colleagues.

“To be honest with you, I’m hoping that after Nov. 3 we’ll be seeing more common ground,” he said. “There’s been a lot of divisiveness in the state house, which has never been seen down there, even when either party had a super majority.”

For example, he said, “We had a good net metering bill for all the communities and the Dems tabled it. They have control of the House. And that was a bill that, two years ago, four years ago, would’ve flown right through. We would’ve compromised. But there’s no compromise right now.”

Merner said the tone of national politics — which has filtered down to the state level — is partly to blame. He said it does not reflect his approach.

“I try to get along with everybody … because you never know when you’ll need somebody. So I’ve never been divisive. When that starts I just take a back seat, or I take a walk. I have taken walks out of the House when that goes on because I can’t just sit and listen to that talk,” he said.

“I SWORE AN OATH”

Meanwhile Binford is a classic New Hampshire conservative — even if he does hail from Texas.

He favors small government and low taxes. Individual liberties and personal responsibility. Principled disagreement and mutual respect.

It might explain why he agrees with the President’s economic policies (“Especially trade agreements”) but takes issue with some of Trump’s public statements. (“I’ll be quite honest, I don’t agree with everything he tweets, I don’t agree with everything that he says.”).

A combat veteran who served in Afghanistan with the second battalion, 327th infantry regiment, 101st airborne division, Binford views politics as a collective effort.

“It doesn’t mean I have to wholeheartedly agree with your whole entire stance,” he said. “If there’s something I don’t quite understand, my goal is to understand it. To be able to have a dialogue. What I have found is there are people willing to have that open dialogue and that is welcome. I need that. But if it becomes personal and insulting and things like that, that’s counterproductive and it doesn’t help either one of us.”

Through his military experience, Binford formed a brotherhood with fellow soldiers from various backgrounds.

“We served together in country. They had my back, I had their back. And if we were asked to do it all over again, I’d do it all over again, because when you’re in that environment you don’t see color, especially in the middle of combat. There’s no color there. It’s you guys against that enemy,” he said.

They maintain contact. Their backgrounds and political opinions differ. Through those relationships Binford has developed a nuanced view on social issues.

For instance, Binford said, he acknowledges the country’s complicated racial history.

“[Racism] is present in this country. Is it as prevalent as what is being broadcast? I’m not 100 percent sure on that. But I do believe there is some,” he said. “But I also believe that if we can get back down to the basics, then we can overcome all of that.”

Those basics are rooted in the Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights, he said.

“I think for me it’s really simple. I swore an oath to defend the Constitution, and the Constitution has our Bill of Rights within that. If we can all begin to agree that we all have those inalienable, individual rights — and we can meet at that level — then to me it does not matter what your gender is, it does not matter what your orientation is, it doesn’t matter what your race is. Because based on that you are guaranteed the pursuit of happiness,” he said, adding later, “Our country has a checkered and not-so-great past in certain aspects, but what I’ve noticed as I’ve looked trough history is we’ve been progressing. And I think we need to continue progressing.”

“DO NOT PUT A SIGN IN MY YARD”

For Schilling Beer Co., the MAGA Meetup continued the brewery’s tradition of hosting high-profile political events.

“Brewers for centuries have played a really prominent role in development of grass roots democracy. And the same is true at Schilling. We’ve proudly hosted candidates from both sides of the political aisle. We hosted five Democratic Presidential candidates in 2019 and 2020,” said Schilling Beer Co. CEO Jeff Cozzens. “So it’s only natural and fair that we would host the Trump campaign as well. In New Hampshire grassroots retail politics, you either do all or you do none. So we choose to welcome everyone.”

The meet-up offered a look into Trump supporters’ hearts.

Those in attendance applauded loudest when Pence spoke in support of law enforcement, the military, and the pro-life movement. When he described Trump as “a fighter.” And when he said “we need to stand up for America and remind our friends, our neighbors, that the Republican way is the American way.”

Most were unmasked. Many expressed a sense of urgency.

That includes Carol Lukovic, a Littleton resident who considers the 2020 Election a pivotal moment in American politics.

When asked if there was common ground between Republicans and Democrats in the upcoming election, she responded, “I don’t see any common ground. They’re all to the left. Fascism, communism, control, big government.”

Describing the stakes of the Nov. 3 vote, she said, “America is the last country standing. And we’re being attacked. We’re in war right now. We do it or we die.”

Also in attendance was Trump supporter Lynda Payette. The Bethlehem resident has knocked on 469 doors during the current election cycle.

She aims to continue canvassing the area despite living in the region’s liberal enclave.

In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton carried Bethlehem (769-573), Easton (118-65), Franconia (483-233) and Sugar Hill (237-159). Trump carried pretty much every other town north to the Canadian border.

“There are so many people who say Lynda, I’m voting for the man, but just do not put a sign in my yard,” she said. “Because they’re afraid. And I’m no longer afraid. I was in 2016, I was kind of nervous to wear my Trump gear. Then I said ‘screw it,’ everyone has someone they’re voting for. And I’m voting for President Trump.”

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