New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu issued a statement Monday welcoming President Donald Trump to New Hampshire ahead of this weekend's rally, while also urging those attending the event to wear masks.
"As Governor I will always welcome the President of the United States to New Hampshire," the Republican governor said. "I am pleased to see the campaign will be handing out face masks and hand sanitizer to all attendees, as has been true at all public gatherings in NH where social distancing is hard to maintain. It is imperative that folks attending the rally wear masks."
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Sununu added that the state has not stopped people from peacefully assembling during the pandemic, including Black Lives Matter marches and Reopen New Hampshire protests.
Trump is set to hold an outdoor campaign rally at Portsmouth International Airport at 8 p.m. Saturday, three weeks after an indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the president’s first of the COVID-19 era, drew a smaller-than-expected crowd amid concerns of rising infections in the region.
Portsmouth City Councilor Deaglan McEachern says the city has been working hard to keep COVID-19 cases low, so he is not happy about the upcoming rally, and he's not the only one.
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"A big, huge rally, anywhere you're going to be packed in with people, worries me right now," said Christina Chapman of Merrimack.
The campaign’s announcement of the Portsmouth rally noted that "there will be ample access to hand sanitizer and all attendees will be provided a face mask that they are strongly encouraged to wear." Many people at Trump’s rally in Tulsa skipped wearing masks, and relatively few masks were seen during his speech at South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore last Friday.
“Trump’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been chaotic and woefully inadequate, resulting in thousands of Granite Staters contracting the virus and hundreds of lives lost, while causing significant damage to our state’s economy,” New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said after the rally was announced. “Instead of helping our state safely recover, Trump is flying in for a political rally that will only further highlight the chaos he has caused.”
McEachren has called for a special City Council meeting on Thursday that would make masks a requirement. He says it's not just people's lives that are at stake.
"We do not want to have a second wave. There are too many businesses that will fold if we do," he said.
Sununu's office said his schedule is still being finalized, but if he does greet Trump at the airport, the governor will be wearing a mask.
The New Hampshire governor's warm welcome for Trump is in stark contrast to the president's visit to Maine last month, when Democratic Gov. Janet Mills told Trump on a call that she had security concerns about his visit to the state after his heated rhetoric on the nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd's death.
Mills said she worried Trump's "presence in Maine" would create "unrest" and urged him to avoid divisive rhetoric during his time there.
"I don't like the thought of all these people coming here and not masking up," said Lisa Sands of Portsmouth. "But you know, that's my opinion, and people are going to do what they want to do."
Joe Maldini of Portsmouth strongly supports Trump and everything he stands for, but he will not be at the rally.
"There's going to be a lot of people there," he said. "A lot of people that just want to be wise guys. Start trouble."
Others think now is just not the time to be on the campaign trail.
"I think he should be staying in Washington and really coming up with an effective strategy to make sure we're all safe," said Mark Eddinger of Northampton.
Both Sununu and his father, former White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu, campaigned for Trump during the run-up to the 2016 election. Earlier in the campaign, the elder Sununu had been highly critical of Trump, referring to him on separate occasions as "dumb" and "a loser." Trump also fired back, calling Sununu "a dumb guy" who "couldn't get elected dog catcher in New Hampshire."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.