Trump throws support behind possible Lewandowski Senate run

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MANCHSTER, N.H. (AP) – President Donald Trump on Thursday threw his support behind his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who is considering a run for Senate in his home state of New Hampshire.

Trump praised Lewandowski as “a very outstanding guy” in an interview on the “New Hampshire Today” radio show before an evening rally in the state. Trump said he thought Lewandowski would be hard to beat if he decides to challenge Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

“Well, first of all, I have to tell you that I think he would be fantastic. He’s got great energy. He’s terrific on television … He’s a really good guy,” Trump said in the interview. While he said he didn’t think Lewandowski had made up his mind yet, Trump said that, “If he ran, he would be a great senator” and “hard to beat.”

The comments came hours before the House Judiciary Committee announced it was subpoenaing Lewandowski and an ex-White House aide as part of its investigation into Trump’s conduct in office. Lewandowski responded in a tweet saying it was “sad and pathetic” that the committee’s Democratic chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler, “is harassing private citizens.”

Two prominent Republicans already have announced campaigns to challenge Shaheen: Retired Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc and former New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O’Brien.

Chris Ager, chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Committee, said he would remain neutral in the Senate primary, but loves Lewandowski and the two candidates who have already announced.

“He’s a local guy, I’d say ‘one of us,'” Ager said of Lewandowski. “So I think if he decided to run he’d be a legitimate, formidable candidate.”

But former New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, a Republican who served as governor before becoming a senator, disagreed.

“He’s a thug,” Gregg was quoted telling the local NH Journal. “He’s part of Trump’s cadre of thugs. If he were to run and become the nominee, it would be an outrage.”

Lewandowski has long been a lightning rod for criticism, but also unshakably loyal to Trump. He served as the president’s first campaign manager, leading the small, ramshackle team that helped Trump defy critics and win the Republican nomination with the motto, “Let Trump be Trump.” And he remained closed with the president – to the dismay of many – even after he was fired from the job after clashing with now-jailed strategist Paul Manafort and the president’s children. There was also an incident in which he was charged with misdemeanor battery for grabbing a reporter’s arm at an event. The charge was later dropped.

Since Trump’s election, he has been a frequent visitor to the White House, sometimes fueling speculation of potential job offers, and is often spotted at Trump’s campaign events, sometimes flying aboard Air Force Once.

Now, Trump seems to be paying him back.

“If he ran and won he’d be a great senator. He would be great for New Hampshire. He’d be great for the country,” Trump said in the interview. “He has got a tremendous drive and that drive would be put to the people of New Hampshire’s benefit and the country’s benefit.”

Asked about a possible Lewandowski run during an appearance on Fox News on Thursday, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said she though he could “absolutely” win. But Republican hopes of winning Shaheen’s seat took a blow back in May when the state’s leading Republican, Gov. Chris Sununu, opted to run for re-election to the governor’s office instead of challenging Shaheen.

In 2014, Shaheen fended off a close challenge from Republican Scott Brown, who had earlier served as a senator from neighboring Massachusetts, and won by roughly 3 points.

Asked by a reporter earlier this month if Lewandowski is qualified to serve in the U.S. Senate, Shaheen said she was “going to stay focused on what we need to do in New Hampshire.”

New Hampshire Democratic Party spokesman Josh Marcus-Blank was quick to offer pushback, calling Lewandowski a “shadow lobbyist with a nefarious client list that includes foreign interests.”

“Lewandowski, with his record of violence, will make an already nasty Republican primary even worse,” he said.

Both Trump and then-New Hampshire U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte narrowly lost the state in 2016. Republicans in New Hampshire have largely embraced Trump since, though critics of the president remain. Trump’s only prominent primary challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, has focused much of his 2020 effort campaigning in New Hampshire.

Aside from the president’s approval, Lewandowski’s potential bid did not elicit strong views either way from other party leaders in Washington, even as he was subpoenaed Thursday to testify publicly about Trump’s potential obstruction of the special counsel probe.

Nationally, Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are expected to stay out of the GOP primary in New Hampshire, according to a top Senate Republican strategist, seeing it as a local decision.

That’s in large part because the outcome in New Hampshire largely depends on Trump, the strategist said. While Republicans see vulnerabilities for Shaheen, they view the Senate race as a coattails contest, in which the GOP candidate’s fate will depend on Trump’s performance in the state.

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Colvin reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report from Washington.

FILE – In this April 28, 2018 file photo, President Donald Trump, left, smiles after listening to Corey Lewandowski, right, former campaign manager for Trump’s presidential campaign, make remarks at a rally at Total Sports Park in Washington, Mich. Trump is throwing his support behind his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who is considering a run for Senate in his home state of New Hampshire. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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