For anyone watching this week’s Republican primary in New Hampshire’s potentially pivotal Senate race, Gov. Chris Sununu’s eleventh-hour endorsement of Chuck Morse to take on Sen. Maggie Hassan didn’t come as much of a shock. Sununu is in a positive relationship with Morse the president of the state senators and they have worked together in the Granite State to advance a similar agenda.
But the last Granite State-University of New Hampshire poll showed Morse running 21 points behind retired Army Brigadier General Don Bolduc, who Sununu has called a “conspiracy-theorist extremist” —a view not uncommon inside a party that only in the last two weeks has recognized they are at risk of blowing yet another winnable race with another flawed candidate.
But, it is possible that the break-glass moment arrives too late in a cycle when national Republicans are not willing to take a hands-off approach. This could lead to a loss of a large majority.
Sununu’s endorsement of Morse on Thursday shows that he still believes it is possible to rally support in this state known for making late-breaking political decisions. The governor, a member of the state’s most successful political dynasty of this era, isn’t one to waste capital on a lost cause.
Kevin Smith, an old conservative insider, is still in the race, but he’s struggling to make it into the top ten in public and privately polls. Given the notoriously cranky New Hamphsire electorate’s glee in smashing political conventional wisdom, it would be foolish to summarily dismiss Smith’s chances, either, given his well-earned reputation among the party’s policy wonks.
Put another way: anyone predicting how Granite Staters are going to come down on Tuesday doesn’t know the state or its puckish pluck.
Bolduc is just the latest example in a vibrant figure that captures the attention of the “burn-it down” crowd during Republican primaries. He has suggested ending the direct election of Senators, entertains the abolishment of the FBI, and has said Sununu is “a Chinese Communist sympathizer.” He is a hardcore advocate of Donald Trump’s Big Lie. However, unlike other troubled presidential candidacies in Georgia and Arizona, Arizona and Ohio, Bolduc isn’t really under the President’s control in this final consequential primary. Trump also has his powder dry because Cory Lewandowski (former Trump adviser) doesn’t love Bolduc.
Many Republicans in Concord, N.H., and Washington alike see Bolduc as a fringe figure who, if nominated, would make it more difficult—if not impossible—for their party to retake the Senate, where the balance stands at an even 50-50. Despite her remarkable fundraising ability, both Republicans and Democrats see Hassan to be one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents. Bolduc had raised $600,000. Hassan was able to raise more than $31million in the last reporting period.
In the last two weeks, the Senate Leadership Fund—a super PAC with ties to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s orbit—dropped more than $4 million in attempts to block Bolduc. Another $23 million in the super PAC’s ads are teed up to start next week and run through November. Even the most conservative state activists are beginning to see the importance of this race not only for New Hampshire, but also for President Joe Biden’s future administration.
New Hampshire has a reputation for mixing ballots. Sununu, who won the third term two years ago by a 32-point margin, was defeated by Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen by a 16 point margin. She won her reelection on that same ballot. While the Patriots and Red Sox are the local team, contrarianism has the advantage.
A Bolduc nomination could help Democrats maintain their monopoly on the state’s delegation to Washington. Blue jerseys are worn by both Senators as well as incumbent House members. However, redrawn congressional districts have meant that Reps. Annie Kuster (Rep.) and Chris Pappas will be on slightly different turf this year for re-election. The GOP has been split by competitive Republican primaries in both of these districts.
Kuster’s district, which includes Concord and Nashua, seems likely to nominate former Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns. It is one of few swing districts that allows people to switch party affiliations regularly, making it one of the most popular in the country.
In Pappas’ similar district, which includes Manchester, Portsmouth and the vacation-playground Lakes Region, former news anchor—and wife of former Sen. Scott Brown—Gail Huff Brown is fighting an uphill march against Karoline Leavitt, a former press aide to the Trump White House and to Rep. Elise Stefaniak, and former state party chief Matt Mowers, who worked for Chris Christie’s presidential bid before taking senior roles in Trump’s State Department. Mowers lost narrowly to Pappas in 2012, when the district was redrawn slightly to favor Republicans.
The Senate race remains the main event. Hassan will enter the fall having a significant fundraising advantage as well as a highly efficient machine. Bolduc and Morse would need to set up an operation from scratch. New Hampshire’s historically late federal primary leaves non-incumbents at a disadvantage to build party unity, a warchest, and momentum. Republicans shouldn’t count on New Hampshire being a politically unstable state, though Hassan may be facing serious problems.
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