- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 4, 2016

EXETER, New Hampshire — Republican presidential front-runner and billionaire businessman Donald Trump suddenly looked a lot more like a traditional candidate Thursday, fielding questions from ordinary voters, leading a discussion with small business owners and dropping by a police station for some old-fashioned glad-handing.

The busy schedule of town hall meetings and retail politicking was part of Mr. Trump’s shift from a celebrity-fueled crusade to a traditional ground-game campaign in New Hampshire as he attempted to rebound from a demoralizing second-place finish behind Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the Iowa caucuses earlier this week.

Campaign veterans have urged Mr. Trump to spend more time engaging voters in face-to-face encounters, rather than relying on the blanket media coverage and huge rallies that have been the mainstay of his unconventional run, keeping him atop the polls but failing to turn out enough supporters to win Monday night in precincts across Iowa.

Trump campaign officials insisted they weren’t doing anything different.

Mr. Trump has always included these kind of stops, but does not always publicize them,” said Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks.

Still, Mr. Trump, who still holds a sizable lead in the New Hampshire polls despite the Iowa setback, got closer to voters on one of his most hectic schedules yet.

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He went from a town hall meeting to a pow-wow with local business owners in Exeter, New Hampshire. Then he participated in Manchester Police Department’s shift change, did a CNN town hall and capped the day with a rally at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Those are the types campaign events recommended by GOP strategist Eric Fehrnstrom, a top adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 run when he bounced back from a tough result in Iowa to win the New Hampshire primary and then went on to capture the nomination.

“If I was on his campaign, I would be arguing to make some adjustments. I would ditch the plane. I would get on a bus and go from town to town,” Mr. Fehrnstrom said. “Trump does need to show people of New Hampshire that he’s not taking them for granted.”

He also urged Mr. Trump to hire his own pollsters, a basic element of campaign infrastructure that the real estate mogul and reality-TV star has mocked as waste of money.

“You have to have a some kind of a ground game. You have to run political advertising. You’ve go to do internal polling,” said Mr. Fehrnstrom. “You’ve got to know in a state like New Hampshire where you are strong and weak and that information informs everything you do from geo-targeting on Facebook to putting together the candidate’s schedule.”

At the town hall meeting, the line to get in stretched more than three blocks and scores of people were turned away after the venue was filled to capacity.

Mr. Trump’s fans said they were confident he would stage a comeback and score a victory in the Granite State.

“Iowa is over and he came in second, so that is all right,” said a Trump supporter who gave her name only as Linda.

“The people of New Hampshire are tired of what has been going on the last 7 years, and the people of New Hampshire are smart, and they want someone smart and honest and trustworthy and to make America great again,” she said, echoing Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan.

The Trump campaign in Iowa was criticized for not setting up a robust organization early on, waiting until the final two weeks to aggressively reach out to potential caucus-goers and failing to deploy representatives to make the case for Mr. Trump at every caucus location.

It has been a different story in New Hampshire, where the Trump campaign began organizing months ago at about the same time as other candidates. The Trump campaign currently boasts hundreds of volunteers and dozens of paid staffers around the state.

Some even say that despite his lead in the polls, Mr. Trump has the most to lose of any candidate in the GOP field when New Hampshire votes Nov. 9.

“My interpretation is although polls show him 20 points ahead, he’s got to make damn sure he wins,” said Mike Clark, a Republican and chairman of the Barrington Board of Selectmen. “If he loses, all hell breaks lose.”

Mr. Trump lead with 29 percent in a CNN/WMUR poll released Thursday, followed by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida at 18 percent, Mr. Cruz at 13 percent and Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 11 percent.

Though leading by double digits, Mr. Trump’s advantage in New Hampshire skidded 7 points from an 18-point lead in the same poll just prior to the Iowa caucuses.

S.A. Miller reported from Washington.

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