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Donald Trump landed right into the beginning of the New Hampshire presidential primary campaign Wednesday. The billionaire made his first appearance in the state since he began talking about running for president.
Trump knows drama. He stepped off a black helicopter with "TRUMP" written in big letters on it at an airfield near Portsmouth, N.H. At the same time, like a curtain, the big hangar door lifted silently to reveal him to reporters waiting inside. He stood in silhouette against the misty outdoors, arms outstretched, in front of the microphones.
Trump says he's very proud of himself because he has accomplished something that nobody else had been able to do.
"Our president has finally released a birth certificate," he proclaimed.
For weeks, Trump had been reviving the call to get President Obama to release his so-called "long-form" birth certificate.
"I'd want to look at it," Trump said, "but I hope it's true, so that we can get on to much more important matters, so the press can stop asking me questions. He should have done it a long time ago. Why he didn't do it when the Clintons asked for it? Why he didn't do it when everybody else was asking for it? I don't know."
That was just the first of several times that Trump would veer into fiction over the course of the day. Neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton ever questioned that President Obama was born in Hawaii.
Later in the day, Trump stepped out of a bakery in downtown Portsmouth holding up a Wall Street Journal for the small crowd outside.
"You see what that says?" Trump asked the crowd. "Karzai says: 'Dump the United States.' After all that time, all those lives."
Actually, the headline read "Karzai Told to Dump the United States". It was a story about Pakistan trying to get the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, to drop his alliance with the U.S. and forge a new one with Pakistan and China. But Trump's comments played well with the excited crowd and he led them on a disorganized parade through the shop-lined streets of Portsmouth.
Wherever he went, people thought Republicans could use a candidate like him. At a diner in Portsmouth, Ryan Russell, a plumber from Durham, N.H., predicted that Trump would get a lot of attention if he runs.
"Because he seems to be hitting a chord," Russell said. "The American public seems to want some business savvy in our government's economic plans right now."
But there were also skeptics like Paul Myers, of Portsmouth, the New Hampshire director of operations for a burger chain.
"I think he's going to make an attempt," Myers said, "but I don't think people are going to take him seriously. I think he's all about the show. I think he's in it for himself."
That kind of division over Trump plays itself out among Republican Party insiders, too. Some are annoyed that he's landed in New Hampshire.
"So, you know, if Snookie, from 'Jersey Shore,' were to make an appearance in New Hampshire, I’m sure a lot of people would turn out to see her, too," said Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. Cullen doesn't take Trump seriously.
"I can’t believe he would stand up to any level of scrutiny among primary voters," Cullen said. "He is not a conservative. He has said truly outrageous things on a consistent basis his entire life."
But other Republicans think Trump could be good for their party. Charlie Arlinghaus, who heads the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, sees Trump as the opposite of the typical presidential candidate who first appears in New Hampshire.
"Most candidates we don’t know anything about and they introduce their personality to us through their politics," Arlinghaus said. "He’s the opposite. We know a lot about him. The one thing we don’t know about is his politics, exactly."
But Arlinghaus said the mystery could work in Trump's favor.
"In this day and age, not being thought of as a politician is all good," Arlinghaus said.
Dozens of people waited to get a glimpse of Trump after he left a fundraiser for the New Hampshire Republican Party.
"Who else gets this crowd?" Trump asked the assembled people outside the 100 Club in Portsmouth. "Who else gets this crowd? Does anybody else get this crowd? Huh?"
Publicly, Trump said he would announce whether he's running for president after his television show, "Celebrity Apprentice," ends its season next month. But at meetings with Republican party insiders, he gave the impression that he has every intention to run.
This program aired on April 28, 2011.
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