Manchester, NH -- President Trump is traveling to New Hampshire on Thursday for his first 2020 campaign stop in the state.
Mr. Trump lost New Hampshire in 2016 by fewer than 3,000 votes, a slim 0.4% margin of votes cast. The GOP hopes they can flip the state next year, and the Republican National Committee says it has already recruited over 300 volunteers here.
But even as popular Republican Gov. Chris Sununu won reelection in last year's midterms, both houses of the state's legislature was taken over by Democrats. Making matters worse for the GOP, the New Hampshire Democratic Party boasted $676,000 cash on hand during the second fundraising quarter of the year -- more than 11 times that of their New Hampshire Republican Party counterparts.
Mr. Trump's approval rating is also underwater in the state. According to a University of New Hampshire poll released Tuesday, forty-two percent of New Hampshire residents approve of his performance as president, while 53% disapprove. That net approval rating remains virtually unchanged since the midterm elections.
Andy Smith, the director of the UNH survey center, said that winning the state would depend largely on turning out base voters rather than the relatively small pool of moderates who could swing either way. "I think we're at a point where the parties are so polar opposite of one another. It's the Yankees and the Red Sox," he said, adding, "What happens in baseball is when your team is not doing well? They tend not to show up at games."
But Republicans point to the state's booming economy as a cause for optimism. New Hampshire is currently home to the nation's fourth lowest rate of unemployment, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
"I hope the president comes up here and talks about how strong New Hampshire is economically," Jim Merrill, a veteran Republican strategist in the state, told CBS News. "If he gets off-track and distracted, you know that's going to hurt."
The Trump campaign says it that the strong economy makes New Hampshire winnable. "The president brought states onto the map that are Trump states – states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin," Trump national press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told CBS News at an economic roundtable in Bedford. "We're looking to move New Hampshire into that column."
New Hampshire could also be home to a marquee Senate race next year. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowskilaunching a campaign to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Meanwhile, with the urging of Republicans in Washington, retired Gen. Donald Buldoc is also running for the seat as the GOP looks to expand its Senate majority.
Despite Mr. Trump's low approval rating in the state, the RNC says that their operation has learned and adapted since Mr. Trump's narrow 2016 loss.
At the Rockingham County Campaign Kickoff last month, New Hampshire data director Ryan Furey peeled back the curtain on the RNC's data playbook. While packing up, Furey pulled out a copy of Elizabeth Mckenna and Hahrie Han's "Groundbreakers," a 2015 book on President Obama's success in raising and wielding an army of volunteers.
The book is required reading for RNC organizers, all of whom must pass a 22-question exam about it before being dispatched to swing states like New Hampshire. Mr. Trump's team here says they have recruited 324 volunteer fellows in 23 grassroots training sessions since May, who will ultimately be assigned leadership roles in "get out the vote" efforts. Since 2016, RNC says they have recruited 1500 fellows in New Hampshire.
"The Democrats had the playbook and walked away from it," said RNC Director of Regional Communications Rick Gorka, who develops and administers the "Groundbreakers exam" before deploying field organizers.
"It's a very expensive program to run. It takes a great deal of commitment, a great deal of resources, and the Democrats just simply don't have it."
Mr. Trump's rally is expected to be held at the SNHU arena in Manchester at 7 p.m.