HAMPTON BEACH, N.H. – Six months after Texas held the first primaries of 2022, it is the season finale, as New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Delaware hold nominating contests on Tuesday.
New Hampshire, a small but crucial general election battleground state, is host to the final high-profile and competitive Republican Senate and House of Representatives primaries, which throughout the past six months have often pitted conservative candidates supported by mainstream Republicans against far-right contenders often aligned with former President Trump and his legions of MAGA loyalists.
The final contests come with just eight weeks to go until November’s midterm elections, when the GOP aims to win back majorities in the House and Senate. While the former president remained uncharacteristically neutral in New Hampshire’s top three Republican primary showdowns, there has been a deluge of outside spending in the final weeks by Republican and Democratic outside groups who view the Trump aligned candidates as unelectable in November.
“I’ve been concentrating on Granite Staters for the past two years. They’re the ones that matter. Not people in Washington D.C.,” retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc told Fox News on the eve of the Sept. 13 primary after speaking with supporters at a bagel and coffee shop in the seaside village of Hampton Beach.
The primary winner will face off in November with former governor and first-term Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in a race that is among a handful across the country that may determine if the GOP wins back the Senate majority. Republicans have heavily targeted Hassan, who they view as very vulnerable due to her lackluster poll numbers.
Bolduc, who served 10 tours of duty in the war in Afghanistan, is running as a populist and outsider as he makes his second straight run for the GOP Senate nomination in New Hampshire. His 2020 bid was unsuccessful, in part because Trump endorsed Bolduc’s rival. After keeping Trump at arm’s length in his first Senate campaign, Bolduc has strongly embraced the former president’s unproven claims that the 2020 election was “rigged.” Bolduc was part of a group of retired generals who signed a letter questioning the legitimacy of the election due to what they charged was “a tremendous amount of fraud.”
The final public opinion polls in New Hampshire indicated Bolduc with a double-digit lead over the rest of the large field of Republican Senate candidates. While Bolduc has given New Hampshire conservatives plenty of red meat, there are concerns from some Republicans in the state and nationally that a primary victory by the retired general, who has severely struggled with fundraising, will allow Hassan to win re-election.
Two weeks ago a newly formed super PAC named the White Mountain PAC, which has loose links to longtime Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s political orbit, dished out roughly $4 million to run TV commercials in New Hampshire blasting Bolduc for his “crazy ideas.”
Another spot by the group boosted New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse, who polls indicated was in second place behind Bolduc.
“I have taken the arrows from my fellow Republican candidates, and I’m standing strong,” Bolduc told supporters at a town hall on Saturday in Laconia, where he was born and raised. “When God made Bolducs, he made oak trees, not willow trees. We don’t bend with the wind. We stand firm.”
“The reason they’re afraid of me is they can’t control me….I scare them,” Bolduc said when asked by Fox News about the big bucks outside GOP groups were spending to target him.
Bolduc’s also tangled verbally with GOP Gov. Chris Sununu, who remains very popular with Granite State Republicans.
Bolduc claimed last year that Sununu was a “communist Chinese sympathizer” and that the Sununu family’s business “supports terrorism.” While Bolduc has walked back those attacks on the popular governor, he continues to criticize Sununu’s policies during the coronavirus pandemic as “executive overreach.”
A few weeks ago Sununu said on a popular statewide talk-radio program that Bolduc’s “not a serious candidate, he’s really not, and if he were the GOP nominee, I have no doubt we would have a much harder time…He’s kind of a conspiracy theorist-type candidate.”
McConnell and other Senate GOP leaders spent a year trying to recruit Sununu to take on Hassan, but the governor announced last November that he would instead run for re-election. On Thursday, he endorsed New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse, who polls indicated was in second place behind Bolduc.
“Chuck Morse has been there every step of the way in our record of success here in New Hampshire,” Sununu said of the small business owner who’s served as president of the state senate for most of the past decade. “I couldn’t be more proud to endorse a partner that I’ve had at the Statehouse.”
Morse, in a Fox News interview on Monday, touted that “I worked with the governor to make sure that we made New Hampshire the envy of the northeast, and it’s working. And his coming out to endorse me is going to work.”
Morse has been targeted on TV by a massive seven-figure ad buy from the Senate Majority PAC, the top super PAC supporting Senate Democrats which is aligned with Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer.
When asked if he is the only Republican who can topple Hassan in November, Morse said “I think that’s been made pretty clear. Chuck Schumer’s already spent $6 million against me because I can beat Sen. Hassan and we’re going to prove that.”
Bolduc and Morse are the front-runners in a GOP Senate primary field that also includes cryptocurrency entrepreneur Bruce Fenton; businessman, economist and author Vikram Mansharamani; and former Londonderry, New Hampshire, town manager Kevin Smith, a former state representative who also served as board chair of the Pease Development Authority.
Fiery congressional showdowns
Trump’s also remained neutral in the GOP primaries in New Hampshire’s two congressional districts, where Republicans are targeting Democratic Reps. Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster.
In the state’s First Congressional District, which has long been a highly contested swing House district, Matt Mowers touted that he’s “the only one” in a crowded field of Republican candidates who defeat Pappas in November.
Mowers, a former New Hampshire GOP executive director who worked on former President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and served in the State Department during the Trump administration, easily captured the 2020 congressional nomination in the district before losing to Pappas by five points in the general election.
“This has always been about who is the tested America First fighter for New Hampshire, and I’ve always been the one who’s stepping up to say that I will,” Mowers showcased. “I’m the only one who worked with President Trump to stop the influx of illegal drugs. I worked with President Trump to establish the Keystone XL Pipeline and worked get it approved. I worked with him to take on entrenched bureaucracy.”
However, the 33-year-old Mowers faces a fierce rival for the GOP nomination in 25-year-old Karoline Leavitt, who has increasingly targeted Mowers in a Republican primary that has turned increasingly combustible.
The most recent public opinion poll indicated Leavitt – a New Hampshire native who worked in Trump’s White House press shop and later for GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who is now the number three ranking House Republican – just two points behind Mowers in the race for their party’s nomination.
“I’m proud to be the home-grown America First candidate in this race,” Leavitt, who would become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress if she wins the primary and again in November, told reporters on Thursday, as she campaigned in Londonderry, New Hampshire with a very high-profile surrogate – conservative firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
The battle between Leavitt and Mowers has been one to the right, with both showcasing their Trump administration experience. However, Mowers does not go as far as Leavitt when it comes to Trump’s 2020 election loss to President Biden. Leavitt fully backs Trump’s unsubstantiated charges the election was “stolen,” while Mowers is more pragmatic, saying that he continues to have concerns about voting “irregularities around the country.”
Leavitt has attacked Mowers as “a career politician,” and argued to Fox News that “Matt Mowers can’t answer a question to save his life because he is bought and paid for by the party bosses down in Washington D.C.”
Mowers — who in June was endorsed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, who are the top two Republicans in the chamber — is being backed by a seven-figure ad buy from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a powerful super PAC aligned with the House GOP leaders. Additionally, another outside Republican group, the more moderate Defending Main Street Super PAC, has spent more than $1 million to blast Leavitt on the airwaves.
When asked about the big bucks flooding into the district, Mowers said “it tells me that folks know we’re the one who’s going to win this race and defeat Chris Pappas…this is the seat that is going to determine whether Nancy Pelosi is Speaker of the House again.”
However, Leavitt emphasized that “the people are with me” and charged that “the establishment in Washington is viciously smearing me with $5 million in negative attack ads.”
The attacks and counterattacks involving Leavitt and Mowers and their allies may open the door to Gail Huff Brown, a former longtime TV news reporter and wife of former Republican Sen. Scott Brown, who served as U.S. ambassador to New Zealand during the Trump administration. The most recent poll – from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center — indicated Huff Brown in third place but gaining ground. The survey also indicated two other candidates in the GOP primary – former state senator and executive councilor Russell Prescott and state Rep. Tim Baxter – in single digits.
“I think the voters are tired of the negative, and they’re tired of the negative advertising they see on TV. They’re tired of the money – millions of dollars pouring into New Hampshire,” Huff Brown told Fox News on Monday in Derry, New Hampshire. “People are tired of all of that. And my hope is that people see right down the middle there is me”
In the state’s Second Congressional district GOP primary race, former Hillsborough County treasurer Bob Burns showcases his “pro-Trump” credentials.
Burns, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican congressional nomination in 2018, is facing off against Keene Mayor George Hansel, who was endorsed by Sununu as he jumped into the race earlier this year. The winner will tangle with Kuster, a ferocious fundraiser who’s running for sixth two-year term in the House.
Pro-Democratic groups meddled in the primary, boosting the conservative credentials of Burns, whom they view as the less electable contender in November.
However, American Liberty Action PAC, which formed over the summer and has yet to disclose its donors, is running ads boosting Hansel.
Former Libertarian Lily Tang Williams is also running for the GOP nomination in the Second District.
Sununu faces a handful of long shot challengers in the GOP gubernatorial primary, as he seeks a fourth two-year term steering New Hampshire. State Sen. Dr. Tom Sherman is unopposed for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Democratic Gov. Dan McKee is facing four primary challengers as he bids for a full four-year term. McKee, who was first elected lieutenant governor in 2014, took over as governor after then-Gov Gina Raimondo stepped down after being confirmed in 2021 as Commerce secretary in the Biden administration. McKee’s challengers include Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, former Secretary of State Matt Brown, and former CVS executive Helena Foulkes. The Democratic nominee will face off in November against either Republicans Ashley Klaus or Jonathan Riccitelli.
Half a dozen Democrats are running in their party’s primary in the race to succeed retiring 11-term Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin, in blue state Rhode Island. Republican Allan Fung, the former mayor of Cranston, is unopposed in the GOP primary. Republicans are encouraged that they can flip the blue-held seat red in November.
President Biden’s home state does not have any elections this year for governor or U.S. Senate, but the statewide auditor’s race is grabbing attention.
Democratic incumbent Kathy McGuiness – who was convicted this summer of official misconduct and conflict of interest – is being challenged by lawyer and accountant Lydia York.
Delaware Gov. John Carney is expected to remove McGuiness from office once she’s sentenced – which is expected in the coming weeks. But there’s the possibility McGuiness wins Tuesday’s primary and then November’s general election and retakes her office in January.
Fox News’ Hillary Vaughan and Kaitlin Sprague contributed to this report