Republican governor defends Trump rally in his state – but won’t attend due to coronavirus fears

Chris Sununu leads one of the US’s most electorally competitive states

Andrew Naughtie
Wednesday 08 July 2020 12:49
New Hampshire governor says he'll avoid Trump rally crowd

The governor of New Hampshire has said he will not crack down on a Donald Trump campaign rally being held in his state on Saturday.

Chris Sununu told reporters he would not order attendees to wear masks and that the event would be treated in the same way as Black Lives Matter demonstrations and other gatherings had been.

“We’ve treated all gatherings in the state, from the time the pandemic began to today, the same, whether they were the Black Lives Matter protests, whether there were protests on the statehouse lawn, whether it’s a political rally, whatever it is, everyone’s always treated the same.

“So to have a mask order for one and not the other isn’t fair, doesn’t make sense,” he said on Tuesday.

However, he indicated that he may not attend. Asked at a press conference what message it sent for he and the president to attend a large rally given the risk new coronavirus infections, Mr Sununu said: My plan right now is to be there to greet the president, I don’t know if I’ll be there in the large gathering of the rally.

“I tend to avoid those types of situations as much as I can. I’ve been in a few large gatherings but they’re kind of few and far between. I’m going to go and greet the president as the governor.

“I’m not going to be in the crowd of thousands of people, I’m not going to put myself in the middle of a crowd of thousands of people. Unfortunately I have to be extra cautious, as the governor I try to be extra cautious for myself and my family.”

Mr Sununu reiterated to the press that he expected people to wear face coverings at the event, and that masks would be handed out. “We’re gonna make sure hand sanitiser’s there,” he added.

New Hampshire has so far seen 384 confirmed coronavirus deaths. Mr Sununu has relaxed some of the lockdown rules put in place in the spring, last week lifting a 14-day quarantine requirement that applied to visitors from the rest of New England. So far, the state shows no sign of a surge in new cases.

Mr Sununu said that the rally would see the president’s team setting an example of how to stay safe. “We’ve heard from the Trump campaign that they’ll be wearing masks themselves,” he said, “which we’re very happy to see.”

However, despite the president’s recent suggestion he might allow himself to be seen wearing a mask in public – partly, he said, because it makes him look like the Lone Ranger – antipathy towards face coverings is growing in conservative circles. There have been reports of people sabotaging mask displays in shops and haranguing Florida officials with conspiracy theories as they considered imposing a mandate.

Among the states Mr Trump lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016, New Hampshire was his narrowest margin of defeat – just 2,736 votes, or 0.37 per cent. The state carries only a handful of electoral college votes, but with polls suggesting Mr Trump currently trails Joe Biden in a range of swing states, every vote counts.

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