A trio of election-denying MAGA Republicans won their primaries in New Hampshire Tuesday night, the latest proof of former President Donald Trump’s enduring grip on the GOP—and a potential blow to their chances in three key congressional races.
The most important result in the battle for Congress came as lightning-rod Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc defeated state Senate President Chuck Morse 37 percent to 36 percent to win the right to face Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan this fall.
Bolduc’s got a big mouth and a penchant for right-wing conspiracy theories: He’s called New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who backed Morse, a "Chinese Communist sympathizer," claimed that COVID-19 vaccines amounted to “Bill Gates saying we should put chips inside people,” continues to insist that Trump actually won the 2020 election, and said he was open to eliminating the FBI after the recent raid on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home. He also starts off at a huge cash disadvantage: Hassan had $7.3 million in the bank to his $84,000 as of the end of August.
Bolduc’s win gives Hassan a major boost in a race that Republicans once saw as a top pickup opportunity—and makes it that much easier for Democrats in their quest to hold the Senate this fall in spite of Hassan’s mediocre poll numbers in the swing state.
And it came in spite of $4.5 million in ads supporting Morse from the Senate Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC closely aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Hard-line MAGA Republicans also won two crucial primaries for New Hampshire’s pair of competitive House districts.
Pro-Trump hard-liner Bob Burns defeated moderate Keene Mayor George Hansel for the right to face Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster in a slightly Democratic-leaning district. The Cook Political Report immediately moved Kuster’s race from “tossup” to “lean Democrat” after Burns’ win.
Burns is a longtime GOP operative who was on Trump’s presidential campaigns as well as the Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee’s presidential bids, and ran as an anti-abortion rights hard-liner who wants stricter voting laws.
And in the state’s other House district, 25-year-old former Trump White House aide Karoline Leavitt beat former Trump State Department Aide Matt Mowers and Gail Huff Brown, former Sen. Scott Brown’s wife. Leavitt won with endorsements from New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who she also used to work for, as well as Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, and has vocally insisted the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise saw Mowers, the party’s 2020 nominee, as the much stronger general-election candidate, and the McCarthy-aligned super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund spent more than $2 million worth to boost him, to no avail. Leavitt will face Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas in a district where Biden and Trump essentially tied in 2020.
The results are a blow to Sununu, whom Republicans in Washington had badly wanted to run for Senate before he opted out last year. Sununu backed both Morse and Hansel in their races.
Sununu said last month during a local radio interview that Bolduc was “not a serious candidate,” and predicted that the GOP “would have a much harder time trying to win that seat back” if he were to be the nominee.
Democrats meddled in both the Senate race and in the Burns-Hansel contest, spending more than $3 million to boost Bolduc and sending mailers to highlight Burns’ Trump ties to help them win with the hope that they’ll be easier to defeat this fall. This continues a pattern of heavy Democratic spending in races to boost MAGA Republicans over moderates they worry would be tougher foes—a pattern that’s happened across the country in House, Senate, and gubernatorial races.
The results might not destroy Republicans’ chances in these races, but they boost Hassan’s chances, giving Democrats a better shot at holding onto the Senate—and marginally improve Democrats’ slim hopes of hanging onto the House this fall.