May 18. 2017 8:02PM

Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway speaks at Nashua fundraisers; events closed to public, media

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader


Protestors greeted White House counselor Kellyanne Conway at a Nashua fundraiser on Thursday night. (KEVIN LANDRIGAN/UNION LEADER)

NASHUA — White House counselor Kellyanne Conway fired up New Hampshire Republicans at two fundraising events here Thursday night, both closed to the public and the media.

"Every day I wake up in the morning, I look in the mirror and I say, 'She is not the President, she is not the President,' and I click my heels together three times," Conway said at the opening of her remarks, before the ballroom doors at the Radisson Hotel of Nashua were closed for the 30-minute speech.

The keynote speaker used the "Wizard of Oz" reference to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at the Spring to Victory event for the New Hampshire Republican State Committee.

It was the first major fundraiser since former state Sen. Jeanie Forrester of Meredith became state chairman.

"I'm hoping we take $80,000 to $90,000 from this event, which is a really good showing. There was a lot of interest even before tickets went on sale," Forrester said.

The GOP chairman confirmed the event was closed at the request of the White House.

According to GOP sources inside the room, Conway said Trump is committed to winning New Hampshire's four electoral votes in 2020.

Trump narrowly lost to Clinton here last November, but didn't need the Granite State after rolling up stunning wins in the Rust Belt and Midwestern states.

Activists in attendance said Conway focused on the strategy for GOP success in the future, saying it relies on connecting with America's middle class and not just "job creators" and "job seekers," but also "job holders" who aren't getting ahead in this economy.

Earlier Thursday, Forrester went with a small group of state party officials to the White House to meet President Trump, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and other top officials.

She then flew on the same plane back to New Hampshire with Conway.

"The President was really upbeat and totally focused on what myself and what the other state chairs thought of how he was doing," Forrester said. "This idea that the Russia issue has paralyzed things is totally wrong,"

She said Trump also stressed the importance of New Hampshire in 2020 and said that the first-in-the-nation primary status remains safe going forward.

"He came so close last time. You can tell this is something he didn't get the last time and he's determined to get it done in 2020 and I believe he surely will," Forrester said.

Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley said the secrecy behind a major state party fundraiser is unprecedented.

"The fact is I don't recall any political party fundraiser dinner being closed to the press," Buckley said during a phone interview.

"I think it is the trend you are seeing out of this White House and it is just odd," he said.

Both parties commonly host private receptions for big donors, but then open the dinner and speaking program to the media.

Some veteran Republicans outside the dinner ballroom venue at the Radisson Hotel of Nashua were surprised to learn it was closed to the media.

"I was just at the Democratic dinner with (former Vice President) Joe Biden and there was a gaggle of press," said one longtime GOP lobbyist who asked not to be identified.

Former Health and Human Services commissioner and potential congressional candidate John Stephen of Manchester was taken aback.

"That makes no sense. I'm here to support the party," Stephen said.

Former State Sen. David Boutin, a Hooksett Republican, was impressed by the turnout.

"It's a who's who of the party; she obviously is a good draw," said Boutin who's running in a special election to win back the seat he voluntarily left in 2016.

Conway's visit follows a trip eight days earlier to Concord and Manchester with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, where they got an update on the state's battle against the opioid epidemic.

Tickets for Thursday's event ranged from $150 for dinner tickets to sponsorships of up to $10,000.

State GOP officials confirmed the only top presidential sponsor was Patricia Humphrey of Chichester, the wife of former Sen. Gordon Humphrey, who was a "never Trump" Republican and a top surrogate for 2016 GOP rival John Kasich.

Other major donors Thursday night were Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, who kicked in $5,000 and GOP National Committeeman Steve Duprey of Concord and auto dealer Jack Tully of Nashua, who each chipped in $2,500.

Outside the hotel, a few dozen anti-Trump protesters held signs mocking Conway's visit, such as "Welcome to N.H. Kellyanne Con Job."

"The well-documented hostility that President Trump and his administration have demonstrated toward the news media has deepened the divide in this country, and accurate reporting has been deemed suspect," said Kate O'Shea of Nashua.

klandrigan@unionleader.com