DOVER, N.H. (AP) — Bill Weld jokes about not kissing the back of a child’s head because he doesn’t want to be accused, like Joe Biden, of making people uncomfortable. He tells voters they wouldn’t know how obese Americans truly are until they go to county fairs, where “those overalls are working overtime.” And he believes his opponent’s policies are trending in the direction of Adolf Hitler.
For now, Weld is the most prominent Republican in revolt, mounting a primary challenge to President Donald Trump.
But in places like New Hampshire, where there’s a healthy contingent of Republicans uneasy with Trump, Weld is still a hard sell. As he’s toured the state in recent months, the 73-year-old’s eccentricities have left Republicans and independents who are cold on the president scratching their head.
“(I’m) still looking for my white knight,” said Fergus Cullen, a former state Republican Party chairman who opposes Trump.
To say Weld, a former governor of Massachusetts, faces an uphill battle would be a dramatic understatement.
The long odds are why other Republicans who have criticized Trump, including Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, haven’t jumped at overtures to challenge a president who remains popular inside his party.
“I don’t know how successful the campaign is going to be, but I admire him for being willing to step up,” Hogan said.
The people who see Weld speak want to like him, or at least like him more than the man in the White House. But he’s still a novelty rather than a viable contender, they say.
“It’s an exercise in futility,” said Wayne Chick, a longtime GOP supporter who says he’s “sick and tired” of Trump’s negative rhetoric.
Those loyal to Trump don’t spare him their scorn.
“It’s just going to be a joke,” said Dan Chicoine, a 73-year-old Vietnam veteran. “He’s not going anyplace.”
The heart of Weld’s campaign depends on New Hampshire because of the ability of independents to vote in the GOP primary. Still, he has fewer resources in New Hampshire than even the longshot Democratic contenders.
As of late May, Weld estimated that only eight staffers work for his campaign. He says his job is to raise money, appear on national TV and campaign in New Hampshire and a handful of other states.
“I don’t need 25 people as an entourage to do what I’m doing these days,” Weld said.
He tries to comfort voters by telling stories of his 1990s tenure as governor of Massachusetts. He speaks less about running in the election that sent his opponent to the White House in the first place.
Weld doesn’t regret his involvement in the 2016 race as former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson’s running mate on the Libertarian presidential ticket and dismisses any blame for Trump getting elected.
Johnson, who has ruled out running for president again in 2020, doesn’t begrudge his former running mate’s presidential run and return to the GOP.
“Hey, by proxy I get to debate Trump through Weld,” Johnson said.
Weld’s sporadic New Hampshire campaign has taken him to a house party of fewer than 30 people where he rested his weight on a creaky banister as his wife gently prodded him from the back of the room about topics he may be forgetting. And it’s taken him in front of baseball fans where he turned a troubling shade of red shaking hands outside a minor league game.
But the voters Weld needs, the independents who he thinks give him a path to victory, aren’t going to see him speak. They’re watching the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates instead.
Mary Tanzer, a 60-year-old doctor and independent voter, voted for Kasich in the 2016 GOP primary and isn’t moved by Weld’s attempt.
“I’m not really crazy about him,” she said, leaving a Democratic event. “If I thought there was a chance (Weld) could win, I would probably vote in the Republican primary and vote against Donald Trump.”
Former small-business owner Jay Buckley, 66, has held out hope for Kasich, the man he voted for in the 2016 GOP primary. He voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump in the general election and spent a recent Sunday watching Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro speak.
“I’m not crazy about Bill Weld,” Buckley said. “I wish somebody really good would challenge Trump.”