Town hall political events are dear to New Hampshire but not to Donald Trump, who built his campaign on huge rallies. And there were early signs Thursday night that Trump’s event in Sandown never aspired to be a true town hall.
One was that the audience was invite only; another was a poster that asked crowd members who wanted to ask Trump a question to submit it in writing, a third was the presence of a Boston Radio Host Howie Carr to select and ask the pre-submitted questions.
"Are you ready? Are you ready to speak to see the next president of the united states Donald J. Trump?" Carr asked the audience.
When Trump himself took the stage, he was quick to downplay the idea that this event, which put Trump’s answers on a two-minute clock, was in any way preparation for Sunday’s debate.
"This isn’t practice. This has nothing to do with Sunday. We are just here because we wanted to be here. And you know Hillary frankly, they can talk about debate prep, she’s resting. And I want to be with the American people, the people from New Hampshire and she wants to rest."
But the first question of the night was debate related: did Trump hold back when he faced Hillary Clinton last week?
"Yeah, I did hold back. I thought it was inappropriate to say what I was going to say and with good reason. I’d much rather have it in policy. I did not want to get into the gutter. "
Another questioner wanted to know if Trump was upset and felt upstaged by running mate Mike Pence’s strong performance in the vice-presidential debate.
"No I was so happy, and I can give you my word on this and I was so happy that Mike did well, and I was rooting him on and we were talking all day".
Another attendee wanted Trump’s advice on how to be successful; do something you are passionate about, he advised.
Did Trump plan to clean house at the FBI and Department of Justice, another voter wondered? Yes.
A question about the VA, was submitted by Trump’s own veterans adviser, State Rep. Al Baldasaro. Trump also took a question posed by Sharon Osborne of Auburn, who wanted to know what Trump might do to reassure GOP voters who still doubt his conservatism. Trump simply said few voters do, and pointed to former Governor John H. Sununu as proof he’s converting skeptics.
"He was tough, he was really hunting for Trump, and you know what? I respect someone who could go the way, a pivot you would say."
But there was little pivoting going on in this crowd on this night – attendees seemed pleased to be there. As Sharon Osborn walked out of the event with her husband Jason, they agreed Trump didn’t really answer her question in as it was posed. But both felt the evening had been a success.
“Oh well, that’s why they call it practice, I guess. You don’t put on the full pads during practice.”
“It’s certainly good to be among friends sometimes, because he certainly doesn’t have that in a lot of places he goes, like the debate stage.”
Donald Trump will be on that debate stage Sunday night in St. Louis.