WINDHAM, N.H. — Unlike most of the voters who lined up in the rain for former President Donald Trump’s rally at a high school gym here Tuesday, Heather O’Connor had not decided which Republican she will vote for in next year’s presidential primary.
The 49-year-old physician said she is leaning toward South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, but is also considering Vivek Ramaswamy and Trump — whose policies as president matched up well with her views.
Her fear about Trump — shared by some of the die-hards who vow to vote for him come hell, high water or imprisonment — is that the criminal charges he faces could harm his chances of beating President Joe Biden in next year’s general election.
“If we had a different candidate other than Trump, I think the Republicans might do better in the general,” O’Connor said. “That’s my concern.”
While it’s clear that Trump’s legal troubles have helped him build a commanding lead in the GOP primary, interviews with more than two dozen voters across the country this month revealed a recurring worry that Trump’s legal woes could sink the GOP in 2024. But the reactions to that conclusion vary wildly — from fear to indifference to indignance.
“I voted for him. I still like him. I think he would do great as in a second term,” Karen Scott, a CPR first-aid instructor from New Boston, New Hampshire, said. “But at this moment, for myself, I just feel that this election is so important because it’s either going to be a continuation of a failed nation, or we’re going to get back on track.”
She is leaning toward Ramaswamy, but is also open to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, she said.
General election polls mostly show a dead heat between Biden and Trump in a hypothetical general election matchup. The former president’s lead in the Republican primary expanded to more than 40 points in surveys released this week by Morning Consult and Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Any concerns about how the indictments could affect Trump’s viability next November have been dwarfed by loyalty to him — and by the failure of any other candidate to gain real traction in the race.
“They don’t sway me,” David Farrell, a 32-year-old Massachusetts voter who made the short trip to New Hampshire to see Trump, said of the criminal charges.
“Sure,” Farrell said, the indictments could weaken Trump in a general election, “but, I mean, there’s always some hiccup for any candidate.”
There is also a camp of Trump loyalists who say the indictments are not only politically motivated but irrelevant to their view of Trump and his chances. Outside the Trump’s rally, John Zampini of Gilmanton, New Hampshire, and Brian Courtney of Haverill, Massachusetts, both told NBC News they would vote for Trump if he’s in prison at the time of the election.
“Wouldn’t matter,” said Courtney, who believes Biden should be in prison for retaining classified documents after his time as vice president.
The charges Trump faces for retaining classified documents include counts related to an alleged scheme to illegally hide material from federal investigators. In separate cases, Trump has been charged with illegally attempting to overturn his 2020 election defeat and with crimes related to hush money payments to pornographic actress and director Stormy Daniels.
Many Republican voters, whether they support Trump or not, are upset by the string of prosecutions. Some believe they are evidence that Biden and Democrats fear facing Trump in a general election, despite overwhelming evidence that they have strengthened Trump in primary polls.
“I’m not that concerned about them, I really do believe what a lot of people you know have been reporting that I’ve watched is, you know, this is interference,” Bill Neverett, a Republican voter from Florida, said. “They’re trying to find a way — you know, they are afraid to have him run one-on-one with Biden.”
But some voters who backed Trump in 2016 and 2020 have been permanently turned off either by his performance in the presidency, his efforts to overturn the last election or his personality.
“Some of his policies were very good,” said former state Sen. Nancy Stiles, who is considering North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Ramaswamy and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. “But his persona is worse than a 5-year-old. He’s just never going to get my vote again.”
In New Hampshire, where independents have a long tradition of temporarily affiliating with a party to vote in its primary, the audience at former Gov. Chris Christie’s town hall meeting in New London Tuesday was decidedly more moderate than Trump’s crowd.
Jeff Nintzel, 72, a semi-retired photographer, said he tends to vote in the presidential primary that is most interesting each cycle. He said that’s the GOP side this time, and, while he hasn’t picked a candidate yet, he said Christie “speaks a truth that many, if not most, of the other Republican candidates are [not] willing to state.”
Nintzel has one primary goal in trying to help pick a GOP nominee. “I don’t want to see Donald Trump anymore,” he said. “I wish Donald Trump would simply go away.”
That sentiment is shared even by some voters who believe the justice system is being tilted to target Trump.
“Everywhere you go, he’s getting indicted for something, right?” Ron Kobrenski, an independent who plans to vote in the GOP primary, said at an event featuring former Vice President Mike Pence last week. “And it just seems a little bit strange that the guy running for president against Biden is being attacked so viciously like that right now.”
But Kobrenski, who backed Trump in the last two elections, wants to make sure that there’s fresh blood in the White House in 2025 and worries that nominating Trump could lead to a second Biden term.
“He’s just too old,” the 73-year-old Kobrenski said of Trump. “There’s too much baggage. There’s too many things going on in his life. And we want a president that can be president, not having to take care of all his legal problems all the time.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com