MANCHESTER, N.H. — Vivek Ramaswamy appeared at 11 public events in New Hampshire over Labor Day weekend, following a dozen stops in Iowa last week. He spoke to packed audiences throughout the packed schedule, reflecting growing interest in his presidential campaign since the August debate.
Many of the attendees curious to learn more about Ramaswamy had one thing in common beyond their interest in him: They plan to vote for former President Donald Trump.
The sentiments shared in more than two dozen voter interviews across five Ramaswamy events illustrate the central problem for the Republican presidential field: They are competing for votes with a candidate whom virtually every Republican voter supported four years ago. But it’s an especially key issue for Ramaswamy, whose campaign is so closely modeled after Trump in both policy and style.
About half of those who spoke to NBC News said they plan to support Trump. Granite State voter Bob Landry, who listened to Ramaswamy speak in North Conway, New Hampshire, is leaning toward Trump in 2024 because “he knows where all the bodies are buried,” he said.
Robert Geoffroy, who heard Ramaswamy speak at the Salem GOP Labor Day Picnic in New Hampshire, is convinced Trump is “the guy.” Running against the former president, Geoffroy said, is “like going against Hulk Hogan.”
“There are a lot of things I agree with him” on, Anyang Thiep said about Ramaswamy after attending his town hall in Hampton, New Hampshire. “But I’m a Trump supporter. So I’m planning to support Donald Trump.”
Lilly Becanze listened to Ramaswamy speak at the Lancaster Fair. She told NBC News that she will be supporting Trump but would like to see Ramaswamy in the vice president position, adding, “The two of them together would be amazing and that’s what a lot of people want.”
But for many, like Norma Latona, it would take “some real persuasion” to get her to vote for Ramaswamy over Trump. “I think he’s sort of a clone of Trump in a lot of ways, even his advertising, his emails,” she told NBC News.
Latona says she loves Trump’s policies but is trying to keep an open mind this election cycle.
Even with the growth he’s experienced over the last month, polling shows that plenty of people interested in Ramaswamy aren’t planning to vote for him — at least not yet.
The NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll conducted in Iowa last month, for example, showed Ramaswamy at 4% support in the GOP caucuses there. But another 30% of Republicans said Ramaswamy was either their second choice or a candidate they were considering supporting.
The 38-year-old entrepreneur is aware that most of the people at his events are or have been supporters of the former president. So is he: During the first presidential primary debate in Milwaukee last month, Ramaswamy said, “President Trump, I believe, was the best president of the 21st century.”
When voters ask Ramaswamy why he is running against Trump, he assures them the former president will be a senior adviser, with lines like, “I expect President Trump to serve as one of my most meaningful, probably my most meaningful adviser and mentor when I’m in the White House.”
Speaking to reporters following a town hall event in Laconia, New Hampshire, Ramaswamy said the way to turn Trump fans into Ramaswamy voters is “gradually.”
“We shouldn’t be talking about ‘which person’ yet,” Ramaswamy said, emphasizing that this part of the campaign is still about introductions as opposed to locking supporters down. “We should talk about who we are. What do we stand for.”
Of course, there are plenty of voters attending 2024 campaign events in search of a new candidate to support, and Ramaswamy is appealing to them.
George Oliver told NBC News at a town hall in North Conway that his top candidate is Ramaswamy. Oliver said he would vote for Trump in the general election if he’s the Republican nominee, but not during the primary.
“I don’t have a lot of confidence in him, and especially what’s happening to him with all the indictments,” Oliver explained.
New Hampshire voter Cynthia Perkins expressed her desire for someone new and thinks Ramaswamy is promising.
“I just don’t want a lame duck and I’d rather somebody fresh and new,” she said, adding, “And I like the messaging that Vivek sends.” Perkins also likes former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, saying she would not vote for Trump in the general election unless he picked Ramaswamy or Haley for his ticket.