SALEM, N.H. — Two veterans who grew up in Massachusetts as Democrats, then moved to southern New Hampshire in their adult lives, became Republican state representatives hoping to help their communities.
Now they're helping to lead the president's reelection effort as two of three New Hampshire chairmen for the Donald Trump 2020 campaign.
Fred Doucette, a retired U.S. Navy corpsman and firefighter from Salem, and Al Baldasaro, a retired Marine who lives in Londonderry, were both involved in Trump's campaign four years ago and say they're eager to deliver a state that Hillary Clinton won by a margin of 2,736 votes.
They hope to turn the state red by building on the success of other elected Republicans, such as Gov. Chris Sununu.
They also hope people will recognize that the economy has become stronger under Trump.
“I’m a lifelong public servant (that’s now) blessed to have a national voice, and (Trump) knows New Hampshire,” Doucette said.
Doucette was part of Trump's 2016 campaign early on. “I was asking, 'Is he really going to do it this time?'” he recalled.
It wasn’t until he got a phone call telling him to be at Trump Tower in Manhattan, where he saw the real estate mogul riding down a gold escalator on June 16, 2015, that he knew it was real.
Baldasaro joined the 2016 campaign a little later, having met with a variety of the Republicans running for president in 2016.
Doucette and Baldasaro join Lou Gargiulo, of Hampton Falls, as Trump's three campaign chairmen in the state. The campaign cites their loyalty and experience as assets.
“President Trump is glad to have Al Baldasaro and Fred Doucette, as well as Lou Gargiulo, as part of his New Hampshire team,” Daniel C. Bucheli, a deputy press secretary for the campaign, said in a statement. “Since day one, these experienced leaders have supported the president and his agenda. Their knowledge of their communities and willingness to lend their voices to amplify the president's message and record of success will undoubtedly help turn New Hampshire red come 2020.”
Lifelong public servants
Doucette was raised in a rough neighborhood in Lawrence, where his mother worked three jobs to get the family off public assistance, he said. He went to Northern Essex Community College then enlisted in the Navy.
“I was a Democrat my whole life — until I couldn’t afford to be,” he said, adding that social programs cost too much in taxes. “The party is lost now.”
He’s lived in Salem for more than 30 years. He joined the town’s Fire Department after coming back from serving in the Navy. He’s now in his third term as a state representative.
Doucette said he was pulled into politics when he retired from the Salem Fire Department. His major legislative feat so far is a law meant to assist firefighters afflicted with job-related illnesses and their families.
A fellow firefighter had died because of cancer that developed from fire-related carcinogens, he said, and the man's widow received none of the benefits she would have if he'd been killed on the job.
“A half-mile south, it would have been treated like a work-related death,” said Doucette, contrasting New Hampshire's old law to workers' rights in Massachusetts.
The main topic now on Doucette’s mind is the opioid crisis. After losing family members and friends to the disease of addiction, Doucette said he's been able to bend the president’s ear on finding solutions. He notes that New Hampshire has since received funding to combat the crisis.
Local, national stages
Raised in Cambridge in a Democratic family, Baldasaro followed a similar path into New Hampshire politics. He wanted to serve his neighbors and wanted to influence policy after losing land to the state through eminent domain, he said.
Formerly a Democrat, Baldasaro said he didn’t agree with raising taxes.
He moved to New Hampshire in the early 2000s after retiring from the Marine Corps.
“I had so many guns it would be illegal (in Massachusetts),” he said with a chuckle.
On a local basis, Baldasaro said he's happy to help constituents find funding for traffic lights or other infrastructure needs, like a generator at the high school.
“I enjoy what I do, I’m able to help people,” he said.
On a national stage, Baldasaro, who is a disabled veteran, said he's been able to influence policy about veterans affairs.
Baldasaro said he experienced firsthand obstacles to finding top medical care for veterans. Without a Veterans Affairs hospital in the state, he's had to travel to Boston for some services.
As Trump expanded on the 2014 Veterans Choice Program, Baldasaro said he was happy to contribute his personal story to help find holes in the existing policy.
Changes made to the program have helped him as his cancer returned recently, he said, adding that he's able to get the least invasive, highest tech surgeries close to home.
In 2016, Doucette and Baldasaro didn’t deliver on turning New Hampshire red on the Electoral College map like they'd hoped and promised. For next year, they are set on winning.
“He keeps his promises, and he’s a man of his word,” Baldasaro said of the president.
Both cite a strong economy and tax cuts as reasons Granite Staters should vote to reelect Trump.
“I think the economy is doing great, I’m not paying as much in taxes as before,” Baldasaro said. “It makes a difference to have a little extra (money).”
As for the potential of a recession, which economists warn may be in the future, Baldasaro and Doucette don’t see it as a potential issue.
“That’s premature,” Doucette said.
Instead, both are focused on how many manufacturing jobs are coming back to New Hampshire, as well as wage increases in the state.
Those things are vital to turning out voters, they said.
“The reason for the ‘blue wave’ was complacency on Republicans’ part, and that won’t happen again,” Doucette said, adding that down-ticket races are very important to the president too.
“We need people (in office) who support the president’s agenda," he said.