Sep 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP's high stakes in New Hampshire

Illustration of the New Hampshire state shape lit by a spotlight
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

MANCHESTER, N.H. — New Hampshire is one of the last states to hold primaries. But Tuesday's fierce intra-Republican contests will be pivotal in determining the GOP's November fortunes.

The big picture: The outcome of the Senate primary will shape the GOP's odds of winning back the Senate majority. And Republicans could squander two winnable House races by nominating less-electable candidates, at a time when every seat matters for GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy's leadership ambitions.

Why it matters: With weak Senate Republican nominees emerging in other battleground states, targeting Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) has become increasingly important to GOP aspirations.

Details: The primary pits the more mainstream state Senate president Chuck Morse against retired Army general Don Bolduc. Morse is the favored candidate of the Republican establishment and is receiving over $4.5 million in reinforcements from a McConnell-aligned super PAC.

Between the lines: Leaders in both parties believe Bolduc may be too far-right to win a general election, which explains Democrats spending more than $3.1 million to shape the outcome in Bolduc's favor — including with ads attacking Morse as "another sleazy politician."

Zoom in: At his 50th and final town hall in his hometown of Laconia, Bolduc struck a defiant, populist note — slamming establishment Republicans and Democrats as elites working for special interests.

  • "I carry their anger," he said of the voters. "Anger is a really good emotion to use to get things done — as long as you control it."

By the numbers: Bolduc had spent $527,000 on his entire race by the end of August. A Democratic super PAC has single-handedly spent $3.2 million to attack Morse on the airwaves.

  • The GOP's Senate Leadership Fund reserved $23 million in ads against Hassan for the general election. But if Bolduc wins the nomination, those reservations could get canceled.
  • The McConnell-linked super PAC went negative on Bolduc last week, portraying him as an unelectable extremist. "Don Bolduc's crazy ideas won't help us defeat Maggie Hassan," the ad says.

Down the ballot: The race to take on vulnerable Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) is another proxy battle between establishment and MAGA forces, and it's caused a clash between McCarthy and House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik.

  • McCarthy backs Republican Matt Mowers, who served in the Trump State Department and ran competitively against Pappas in 2020.
  • Karoline Leavitt, a 25-year-old former Trump and Stefanik staffer, has bashed McCarthy on Tucker Carlson's show on Fox News and picked up late traction wooing MAGA forces. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) campaigned with her last week. The day before the primary, she's campaigning with Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) for a gun shoot.
  • An ad from Defending Main Street, a moderate Republican super PAC, features footage from Leavitt's social media and caricatures her as "a woke Gen Zer." If elected, Leavitt would be the youngest congresswoman in U.S. history.
  • Gail Huff Brown, the wife of former Sen. Scott Brown, is polling in third with an outside chance at an upset if Mowers and Leavitt destroy each other.

In the state's other House district, George Hansel, a popular, moderate Republican mayor who supports abortion rights, could put the Biden-friendly district of Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) in play.

  • But a newly created Democratic PAC is boosting a right-wing candidate — pro-Trump Republican businessman Bob Burns — to stop that from happening.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to note that Defending Main Street is not affiliated with McCarthy.

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