MANCHESTER, NH — Vivek Ramaswamy performed at 11 public events in New Hampshire over Labor Day weekend after completing a dozen stops in Iowa last week. He addressed crowded audiences during his busy schedule, reflecting growing interest in his presidential campaign since the August debate.
Many of the participants who were curious to learn more about Ramaswamy had one thing in common, in addition to their interest in him: they plan to vote for former President Donald Trump.
The sentiments expressed in more than two dozen voter interviews at five Ramaswamy events highlight the central problem facing the Republican presidential office: competing for votes with a candidate virtually every Republican voter supported four years ago. But it’s a particularly important issue for Ramaswamy, whose campaign is so closely aligned with Trump in both policy and style.
About half of those who spoke to NBC News said they plan to support Trump. Granite State voter Bob Landry, who listened to Ramaswamy’s speech in North Conway, New Hampshire, is leaning toward Trump in 2024 because “he knows where all the bodies are buried,” he said.
Robert Geoffroy, who overheard Ramaswamy speaking at the GOP’s Labor Day picnic in Salem, New Hampshire, is convinced Trump is “the guy”. Running against the former president, Geoffroy said, is “like running a race against Hulk Hogan.”
“I agree with him on a lot of things,” Anyang Thiep said of Ramaswamy after visiting his town hall in Hampton, New Hampshire. “But I’m a Trump supporter. That’s why I intend to support Donald Trump.”
Lilly Becanze heard Ramaswamy’s speech at the Lancaster Fair. She told NBC News that she will support Trump but would like to see Ramaswamy in the vice presidential position, adding, “The two of them would be great together and that’s what a lot of people want.”
But for many, like Norma Latona, it would take “some real convincing” to get them to vote for Ramaswamy over Trump. “I think he’s sort of a clone of Trump in a lot of ways, even in his advertising, his emails,” she told NBC News.
Latona says she loves Trump’s politics but is trying to keep an open mind this election cycle.
Despite the growth he’s seen over the past month, polls show many people interested in Ramaswamy have no intention of voting for him — at least not yet.
For example, last month’s NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll in Iowa found that Ramaswamy has 4% support among GOP factions there. But another 30% of Republicans said Ramaswamy is either their second choice or a candidate they want to support.
The 38-year-old entrepreneur knows that most of the people at his events are or were supporters of the former president. So does he: during the first presidential debate last month in Milwaukee, Ramaswamy said, “I think President Trump was the best president of the 21st century.”
When voters ask Ramaswamy why he’s running against Trump, he reassures them that the former president will be a senior adviser, with phrases like, “I expect President Trump to be one of my most important, probably my most important, advisers and mentor when I… .” I’m in the White House.”
Speaking to reporters following a citizens’ rally in Laconia, New Hampshire, Ramaswamy said Trump supporters can be “gradually” turned into Ramaswamy voters.
“We shouldn’t be talking about which person yet,” Ramaswamy said, stressing that this part of the campaign is still about introduction and not about locking up supporters. “We should talk about who we are. What do we stand for?
Of course, many voters are attending the 2024 campaign rallies in search of a new candidate to endorse, and Ramaswamy is reaching out to them.
George Oliver told NBC News at a North Conway town hall that his front runner was Ramaswamy. Oliver said he would vote for Trump in the general election if he were the Republican nominee, but not in the primary.
“I don’t have a lot of faith in him and especially not in what’s happening to him with all the charges,” Oliver explained.
New Hampshire voter Cynthia Perkins expressed her desire for someone new and thinks Ramaswamy shows promise.
“I just don’t want a lame duck, I want someone fresh and new,” she said, adding, “And I like the messages that Vivek sends.” Perkins also likes former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who says, she would not vote for Trump in the general election unless he chose Ramaswamy or Haley as candidates.