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Trump gets N.H. buzzing with visit

Curious voters size up mogul

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By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / April 28, 2011

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PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — He stepped off a Trump helicopter, proclaimed he had caused President Obama to release his full birth certificate, and showed off all the bombast and bravado that within weeks have catapulted him into the conversation about who will be the next president of the United States.

Whether Donald Trump will seek the Republican nomination, and whether he has significant support here in the first-primary state or elsewhere, seemed beside the point. The publicity machine was rolling. About 75 members of the media were on hand — a contingent far larger than any that has assembled for events by possible candidates such as Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Newt Gingrich.

“I know how to make money,’’ Trump boasted during a 30-minute press conference after he landed at Pease International Tradeport. “I would make this country rich again.’’

The business mogul and television star may be the antithesis of New Hampshire and its frugal Yankees who prize their role in selecting presidential candidates. He traveled in a black stretch limousine, sandwiched between two SUVs. Beefy guards with earpieces and sunglasses trailed him as he approached diners in Portsmouth, toured a defense contracting company in nearby Newington, and went to a lobster house in Dover.

But in a campaign season that is starting late and lacks a clear Republican front-runner, Trump easily seized attention, at least for this day.

Some New Hampshire Republicans welcomed him as the type of blunt-talking candidate they need to take on Obama. Others scoffed at all the attention.

“I have yet to hear from one person who takes him seriously,’’ said Fergus Cullen, a former state GOP chairman, adding that Trump’s flirtation with the race “belittles the process.’’

“The kinds of folks who are interested in Donald Trump would be equally as interested in Snooki if she came to New Hampshire,’’ he added, referring to the reality television star from MTV’s “Jersey Shore.’’

But Matt Laliberte, the New Hampshire coordinator of Draft Trump 2012, said, “One thing that’s been consistent throughout: people want to see him. People who don’t want to see him become president — they still want to see him and hear him.’’

Trump has risen in new polls just as he began raising old questions about whether Obama was born in the United States. The president previously released a “certificate of live birth’’ — a legal document good enough for a US passport — that said he was born in Hawaii. But Trump and others questioned that document’s authenticity.

Just before Trump landed in New Hampshire, the White House released a copy of the longer form of the certificate, and Obama spoke about the issue as Trump was addressing reporters in Portsmouth.

“We do not have time for this kind of silliness,’’ the president said in a White House appearance discussing the issue. “We’ve got better stuff to do. . . . We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.’’

Obama did not mention Trump by name.

The developer said he would need to have experts analyze the birth certificate before he accepted its authenticity, but he immediately claimed victory.

“Today, I’m very proud of myself because I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish,’’ he said. “I am really honored, frankly, to have played such a big role.’’

Trump deflected several questions about when he would release his tax returns — as he had pledged to do if Obama released his birth certificate.

But he also continued to hurl innuendoes about Obama’s college record — and called on the president to release his transcripts.

“The word is, according to what I’ve read, that he was a terrible student at Occidental,’’ he said. “How did he get into Harvard if he wasn’t a good student?’’

Obama attended Occidental College before transferring to Columbia University. He also graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review.

When asked later whether he himself would release his school transcripts, Trump stared ahead silently and kept walking. When asked to respond to criticism that his comments about Obama have racial overtones, he said, “No racial overtones.’’ He declined to comment further.

The 64-year-old, thrice-married New York native made his riches in the real estate business. He has become famous through both his outsized personality and the massive building projects that bear his name.

If Trump decides to run, he will have much to explain. Despite his successes, his casino businesses have run into financial difficulties several times. He has been a frequent donor to Democrats over the years.

He has previously toyed with running for president, in 1988 as a Democrat and in 1999 as a Reform Party candidate.

The buzz surrounding Trump shows the unsettled nature of the GOP field of candidates, one in which someone with no experience in elected office can surge to the top of national polls.

Voters yesterday seemed taken with Trump, pulling out their cameras and cellphones to capture his visit. When he arrived at the Roundabout Diner and Lounge, he was greeted with applause. Scores of people waited more than an hour outside the One Hundred Club, a restaurant in downtown Portsmouth where Trump headlined a $1,000-a-person state GOP fund-raiser.

As he walked through downtown Portsmouth — stopping in a cigar shop, a jewelry store, and a bakery specializing in popovers — he posed for pictures and grinned to shouts of “Run, Donald, Run!’’ and “Thank you for the birth certificate!’’

“Who else gets this crowd?’’ Trump said. “Does anybody else get this crowd? I don’t think so.’’

But most of those interviewed said they were more intrigued by seeing a celebrity and were far from ready to cast a vote for him.

“It kind of makes me giggle and laugh a little,’’ said Haven Hayes, a 76-year old Republican from Barrington, N.H. “I just can’t see him being president. I just can’t.’’

While Trump has been coy about his plans, he seemed yesterday to be soliciting votes. “You gonna vote for Trump?’’ he asked one woman.

Trump also appeared to forgo his past phobia of germs (“One of the curses of American society is the simple act of shaking hands,’’ he wrote in a 1997 book), pressing the flesh like it was his job.

“It was very warm and very strong,’’ Brian Murphy, a 49-year-old independent from Rye, N.H., said of the handshake. “I was surprised.’’

(When a reporter commented that he was getting good at shaking hands, he denied having any issues with the ritual, saying, “That’s a rumor that the enemies say.’’)

The day had a festive atmosphere. When WHDH-TV reporter Andy Hiller told Trump his famously coiffed hair looked good, Trump responded, “I love this guy! I love him. It looks much better than people think.’’

A follow-up: Who has better hair — Trump or Romney?

“He has good hair,’’ Trump said. “He has very nice hair.’’

Trump has two more trips to New Hampshire scheduled, one to Nashua in May and another to Bedford in June.

Trump promised a decision about his own candidacy after this season’s May 22 conclusion of the NBC-TV program, “Celebrity Apprentice.’’

“I think you’ll be surprised,’’ he declared, before rolling up the window in his limousine and driving away.

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.