The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In N.H., far-right candidates prevail over establishment-backed rivals

Three contenders swept the nominations in key congressional battlegrounds in the final primaries before the November election

New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Don Bolduc chats with supporters during a primary night campaign gathering, Tuesday Sept. 13, 2022, in Hampton, N.H. (Reba Saldanha/AP Photo)

Three far-right candidates defeated rivals backed by the Republican establishment on Tuesday in New Hampshire, sweeping the nominations in key congressional battlegrounds in the final primaries before the November election.

The results dealt a sharp blow to Gov. Chris Sununu (R) and the party’s leaders in Congress, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

In the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Don Bolduc prevailed over Chuck Morse and will face Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) in the fall. Bolduc has echoed Donald Trump’s false claims that the former president won the 2020 election; he has voiced openness to abolishing the FBI; and he has accused party leaders of “rigging” a 2020 primary that he narrowly lost. A political organization tied to Senate Republican leaders spent more than $5 million to support Morse, with ads warning that Bolduc, a retired Brigadier General, was erratic and could not win.

In the 1st Congressional District, Karoline Leavitt, an ex-member of the Trump White House press team who ran as an “America First” insurgent against the Washington establishment, defeated Matt Mowers, a former Trump aide who was supported by McCarthy. Leavitt, who emphasized that she has called the 2020 election rigged, will face Chris Pappas (D) in a race seen as a key battlefront in the fight for control of the House. At 25, Leavitt would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress if she wins in the fall.

And in the 2nd Congressional District, also seen as a key November battleground, Robert Burns, a former Hillsborough County treasurer who ran to the right of Keene Mayor George Hansel (R) and opposes abortion rights, will face Democratic Rep. Ann Kuster. Sununu backed Hansel and he endorsed Morse in the Senate race.

New Hampshire was one of three states where voters went to the polls on Tuesday along with Rhode Island and Delaware. The primaries allowed voters one final chance to choose party standard-bearers after months of fierce intraparty battles that highlighted divisions on both sides over policy, personality, and ideology, among other things.

The races in the Granite State captured the interest of national strategists in both parties, given how they could shape the fight for control of both chambers of Congress in November.

From his campaign Twitter account, Morse wrote early Wednesday, “It’s been a long night & we’ve come up short. I want to thank my supporters for all the blood, sweat & tears they poured into this team effort.” He added that he called Bolduc and wished him “all the best.”

In his run, Morse had touted the backing of Sununu, a relative moderate in the party who rejected efforts by Senate GOP leaders to recruit him to run against Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and he had defended the validity of the 2020 election in New Hampshire, even as he did not oppose GOP challenges to results in a pair of other states.

Through mid-August, Republican candidates who claimed inaccurately that the 2020 election results were fraudulent had prevailed in more than half of the races they have run in this year, according to a Washington Post analysis of hundreds of federal and state primaries. That record reflects in part the continued influence in the GOP of Trump, who continues to falsely assert in public comments that the election was stolen from him.

Since Donald Trump first suggested the 2020 election might be stolen, Republicans have latched onto the claim. Here’s how it became a litmus test for the party. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

Trump did not make an endorsement in the New Hampshire Senate primary or in either of the state’s House primaries, a noticeable absence after weighing in on scores of other intraparty contests this year.

Hassan easily won renomination Tuesday. In the governor’s race, Sununu won renomination and will face Democrat Tom Sherman in November. Sununu begins as a heavy favorite in the gubernatorial race.

Sununu, whose family is an institution in New Hampshire politics, has called Bolduc a “conspiracy theorist.” Still, at a weekend stop at a seafood festival here, he said that he would support Bolduc or any other Republican who won the nomination. On Monday, Sununu predicted a close GOP race, but he said he believed Morse would win.

For a time, national Republicans viewed the path to winning back control of the Senate as potentially running heavily through New Hampshire. When Sununu opted instead to seek reelection, local and national Republicans coalesced around Morse as the strongest alternative to Bolduc — who has embraced the fight against the party establishment.

“It’s just noise. I’ve combated that for two years,” said Bolduc in an interview after a Saturday town hall in Laconia.

National Democrats had signaled a belief that Hassan would have an easier time holding her seat in November against Bolduc, and they spent millions attacking Morse in recent weeks — a strategy of interference they have employed in GOP primaries around the country.

While New Hampshire has leaned Democratic in the past few presidential elections, Republicans believed it was within reach in a midterm year that looked dire for Democrats. While Democrats are at risk of losing the Senate, public polling indicates they are faring better than expected in many of the tightest races in the country.

The Democratic incumbents in the state’s two U.S. House seats are also facing challenging reelections in November, according to nonpartisan analysts, heightening the stakes of the Republican primaries in both contests.

The 1st Congressional District primary was a heated competition that exposed some differences between the candidates. When it came to the 2020 election, Mowers had said there were “irregularities” in the count, but he had stopped short of Leavitt’s false claim about the vote.

“The establishment is so afraid that I’m going to beat their handpicked puppet on Tuesday,” Leavitt told supporters at a Thursday night rally with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). “And you know what? I wear those attacks as a badge of honor, because they know that I am the greatest threat for beating their handpicked puppet.”

Also on the ballot was Gail Huff Brown, a former TV news anchor and the wife of Scott Brown, a former Republican senator from Massachusetts. Her TV ads emphasize her support for “choice” and New Hampshire’s new law on abortion that left the procedure legal in the state, but added some restrictions.

A similar dynamic played out in the 2nd Congressional District. As in the Senate race, Democrats spent money highlighting Burns, who they saw as easier to defeat in the fall than Hansel.

While Burns has acknowledged that Biden won in 2020, he has claimed that “a ton” of other unspecified elections were “stolen” in 2020. Hansel has recognized Biden’s win.

A political organization that did not disclose its donors backed Hansel, but Burns told Politico that he blamed the ad spending on McCarthy, calling him “dead to me.”

In Rhode Island on Tuesday, Democrats navigated some high-stakes contested primaries of their own, including one for governor. Gov. Dan McKee (D), who replaced Gina Raimondo after she was appointed to Biden’s Cabinet to lead the Commerce Department, defeated business executive Helena Foulkes in a competitive race.

McKee had been dogged by a scandal over a $5 million contract awarded to a political adviser’s consulting firm, which became the subject of an FBI probe. Foulkes received a late assist from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who came to the state to campaign for her Sunday.

“If I didn’t think that she could win this, I would have never encouraged her to put herself in the arena,” Pelosi told voters in Providence. “She is about getting the job done.”

An open seat in Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin is seen as one of Republicans’ most promising chances to flip a seat in their endeavor to win back the House majority. There, state Treasurer Seth Magaziner was the winner of the Democratic primary, according to the Associated Press, prevailing over former state congressman David Segal, who ran on a more liberal platform, and former Commerce Department lawyer Sarah Morgenthau.

Republican Allan Fung, who carried the district in two failed runs for governor, won his party’s nomination in an uncontested primary. President Biden carried the district by 14 points in 2020, giving Democrats hope of retaining the seat in November.

Matt Brown, who finished well behind in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, and running mate Cynthia Mendes, a state senator, got a late endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who did not campaign in the state. Both Democrats were part of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, a liberal project to replace the state’s more conservative leadership and pass an agenda that includes a $19 minimum wage and universal health care.

In Delaware, Democratic State Auditor Kathy McGuiness lost in the primary to challenger Lydia York in the first race since McGuiness was convicted on corruption charges. York, who was endorsed by local Democrats, would be the second Black woman to hold statewide office in Delaware, after Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.).

Biden returned home to vote Tuesday, but he did not tell reporters whom he cast his ballot for in the primaries.

Weigel reported from New Hampshire.

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