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Large N.H. Crowd Turns Out To Welcome Trump A Day After GOP Debate

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's check in now on Donald Trump. The Republican presidential hopeful appeared at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire where, not surprisingly, he proclaimed himself the winner of Wednesday night's debate. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson was there.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Rochester, N.H., population 30,000, turned out a big crowd for Donald Trump.

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LIASSON: The high school band was playing, and there was a warm-up speaker who proclaimed this town meeting big enough, even for Donald Trump.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Rochester Recreation Center. This evening's event is the largest political event in Strafford County history.

LIASSON: This was Trump's first rally after Wednesday's debate, which he didn't dominate the way he had the first one. Many observers thought Carly Fiorina knocked him off his stride, but not according to Donald Trump. He said he won and claimed to have the data to prove it.

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DONALD TRUMP: Time Magazine, they did votes as to who won the debate - Trump, 56.

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TRUMP: Carly Fiorina, 19. Drudge - we love Drudge - Donald Trump, 51 percent. Then Newsmax, Donald Trump, first place by a lot.

LIASSON: There are some standard features to every Donald Trump appearance. There's the ritual reciting of his box office - always excellent. And if that wasn't enough self-promotion, there's this.

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TRUMP: Every time I speak now, it's on live television. You know why? It's a very simple business, ratings. If I didn't get ratings, those cameras would not be on, OK? They would not be on.

LIASSON: And there's some shtick, which seemed to work as well in Rochester, N.H. as it does in Manhattan.

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TRUMP: Well, the pope believes in global warning. You do know that, right? Hey, in this room, it's so hot in here, maybe I'll start to believe it myself. This room is hot.

LIASSON: And then there is the audience. This is the first question Trump got last night when he opened up the floor to Q and A.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: OK, we (inaudible) problem in this country. It's called Muslims. We know our current president is one.

TRUMP: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You know, he's not even an American. Birth certificates, man.

TRUMP: We need this question. (Laughter) This is the first question.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: But anyway...

LIASSON: According to the local fire department, about 3,000 people turned out for Trump last night. Among them was Donna Lynch, who said she watched the debate on Wednesday and thought Carly Fiorina had a great night. But she still likes Trump because she agrees with him on immigration.

DONNA LYNCH: Oh, I like when he thinks - says he's going to send people back. This country is in a bad place right now.

LIASSON: And here is Lynch's friend, Judy Porter.

JUDY PORTER: What we like about him, he absolutely loves America. And he loves the American people. And he is for us. And he's very strong about what he tells us that he will do.

LIASSON: Porter says Trump can be insensitive, but that doesn't bother her. Neither does the fact that he doesn't seem up to speed on foreign policy.

PORTER: Not at all. He's a smart cookie. They say he learns very fast, so it won't be a problem.

LIASSON: If any other candidate said some of the things that Donald Trump says, their career would probably be over. But so far, the normal rules don't seem to apply to him. Maybe that's because the Trump show is so compelling, even for voters like Steve Chelmsford, who says he's not crazy about Trump's antics or his attitude.

STEVE CHELMSFORD: He's the kind of guy that - it's almost - sometimes, I felt embarrassed watching.

LIASSON: Chelmsford is conflicted. He doesn't like it when Washington Republicans beat up on Trump, although he says it is hard to picture Donald Trump being president. So he's not sure he'd actually vote for him. But he is sure who he won't vote for.

CHELMSFORD: We don't need another Bush. It's not - it's not some kind of monarchy.

LIASSON: After the pummeling Trump took on Wednesday night from almost every other candidate, many establishment Republicans were hopeful, once again, that the beginning of the end of the Trump surge was near. But, judging by the size and enthusiasm of the crowd Trump found waiting for him in New Hampshire yesterday, that might be a little premature. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Rochester, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.