AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We're going to learn more now about the man who has helped Donald Trump become the Republican front-runner. His name is Corey Lewandowski, Trump's campaign manager. He was once a little-known political operative, not anymore. Here's New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers.
JOSH ROGERS, BYLINE: If there was a moment when Corey Lewandowski's value to the Trump campaign was confirmed, it came primary night in New Hampshire, when Trump won big on Lewandowski's home turf.
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DONALD TRUMP: Corey? Where is Corey? Does Corey have a ground game or what? Boy, do we have a ground game? Where's Corey? Corey, Corey Lewandowski.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Corey, Corey, Corey, Corey.
ROGERS: Lewandowski was standing stage right to Trump, looking relaxed. It was a rare moment of rest for Lewandowski, who's known for guzzling energy drinks and being in constant motion. Lewandowski had never run a national campaign before. Now, he's Trump's alter ego.
COREY LEWANDOWSKI: And I think it's time to send someone to Washington who's willing to fundamentally change the system and make America great again. There's only one guy willing to do that; Trump.
ROGERS: At 41, Lewandowski has spent half his life in politics, mostly in low-profile positions. Before signing on with Trump, Lewandowski was known in New Hampshire political circles for mock-debating a cardboard cutout of former Gov. John Lynch at Tea Party rallies.
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LEWANDOWSKI: This is an actual, life-size image of the governor, 5 feet, 4 inches tall.
LEWANDOWSKI: And here, I have dubbed the governor the New Hampshire big spender.
ROGERS: That was 2010. Lewandowski was working for Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-affiliated group. At the height of the Tea Party movement, Lewandowski spent a lot of time at the New Hampshire state house, where conservative lawmakers like Andy Sanborn took notice.
ANDY SANBORN: You know, he's in with both feet and both hands and he's working 100 miles an hour, and he was a formidable adversary or an incredible ally in whatever the issue is.
ROGERS: Lewandowski's pluck and energy also won him attention is his adopted hometown of Windham, where he used public records laws to probe town government. He ran unsuccessfully for town treasurer in 2012. Kathleen DiFruscia is a former Windham selectman. She recalls how Lewandowski targeted voters with robocalls to stoke outrage over a visit to the town by President Obama.
KATHLEEN DIFRUSCIA: He was just really interfering with town business in what I considered an inappropriate manner.
ROGERS: Despite his rough edges, Lewandowski remains well-liked by other Republican political operatives. Ryan Williams advised Jeb Bush. He says Lewandowski never hesitates to get personal.
RYAN WILLIAMS: When I've criticized Trump in this campaign, like in the press, he always responds by attacking me. (Laughter) Ryan Williams is a paid Bush hack and he's just fighting for his job, or something like that, he'll say in response.
ROGERS: Politicians who have employed Lewandowski know him as loyal. When former Ohio congressman Bob Ney faced prison on corruption charges in the Abramoff lobbying scandal, Lewandowski vouched for Ney's character. Former New Hampshire U.S. Sen. Bob Smith recalls how Lewandowski ran his 2002 campaign. Top Republicans in Washington and New Hampshire were trying to oust Smith in a nasty primary. Smith says Lewandowski stepped up when other operatives wouldn't.
BOB SMITH: This is a high risk game. I mean, you've got to take chances, you know? And if you're right, you look great. And if you're wrong, then you get the blame for it. But Corey was attracted to that, and that's probably what Trump looked at as well, the fact that Corey is not afraid to take on the establishment.
ROGERS: So far, Corey Lewandowski's gamble on the once long-shot campaign of Donald Trump appears to be paying off handsomely. The same may go double for Donald Trump's gamble on Lewandowski. For NPR News, I'm Josh Rogers in Concord.
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