With Senate control on the line, New Hampshire’s Republicans are poised to nominate a Trump-like candidate

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MANCHESTER — New Hampshire will close its primary season on Tuesday with a showdown between a Republican moderate and a far-right candidate, analysts say could jeopardize Republicans’ chances of winning back the Senate majority.

Republicans are poised to nominate Don Bolduc, a Trumpy candidate who has expressed support for repealing the 17th Amendment, which allows direct election of senators. He has also embraced former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that the election was stolen.

The winner of the Republican primary will face incumbent Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan, whose seat is seen as crucial to the Republican roadmap to regain control of the Senate Chamber.

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If Bolduc lands the nomination on Tuesday, experts say his eligibility could be a roadblock for Republicans heading to November.

“He’s kind of a lone wolf,” said Tom Rath, a former National Republican Committee member and adviser to several GOP presidential candidates, including George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. Rath noted that Bolduc does not have the support of notable Republicans or organizations.

Bolduc, a retired brigadier general, has angered New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, a popular Republican with a high 60% approval rating, according to a recent St. Anselm College poll.

New Hampshire’s Republican Republican Senate candidate, Don Bolduc, gestures at the end of a debate, Wednesday, September 7, 2022, in Henniker, NH

That same poll showed that Bolduc led his more moderate opponent, New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse, 32%-16%. Another University of New Hampshire poll found that Bolduc had an increasing lead over Morse – 43%-22%.

“He is not a serious candidate,” Sununu said on WGIR radio. He said that even if Bolduc is the nominee, he will not support a conspiracy theorist type candidate.

In an Aug. 14 debate, Bolduc doubled down on his claims of a stolen election by pointing to a letter he signed claiming Trump had won the 2020 election.

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“Damn it, I’ll stick to my letter,” said Bolduc. “I don’t switch horses, honey.”

Sununu and national Republicans put their shoulders to Morse.

“Because of this great state, we have to defeat (Democratic incumbent Senator) Maggie Hassan in November. The best candidate to do that is Chuck Morse,” Sununu said on Thursday, announcing his approval days before the primary.

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External spending New Hampshire floods

When the alarm bells started ringing that Bolduc could win the nomination, Republicans and Democrats alike began to flood the state with advertising money.

White Mountain PAC, a GOP-aligned PAC, donated $4.6 million in an ad purchase to both support Morse and criticize Bolduc.

In one ad, Morse is described as “a hard-core conservative” and promises Morse to finish building the wall on the southern border. Another PAC ad attacks Bolduc for his “crazy ideas,” which “will not help us beat Maggie Hassan.”

On the other hand, Senate Majority PAC, which has ties to the Democratic Senate leadership, has spent $3.2 million on negative advertising against Morse, Politico reported. The ads call Morse “another sleazy politician.”

New Hampshire Republican United States Senate candidate Chuck Morse speaks during a debate, Wednesday, September 7, 2022, in Henniker, NH

New Hampshire Republican United States Senate candidate Chuck Morse speaks during a debate, Wednesday, September 7, 2022, in Henniker, NH

Morse, suddenly in the midst of spending, shrugged his shoulders at the ads in an interview with USA Today. “If third parties get involved, I have no control over that.”

“We will be able to handle whatever we have to do,” Morse said.

‘We are the quintessential purple state’

The Granite State currently has a fully Democratic congressional delegation. Any Republican wishing to hold a position of state must appeal to independents and even Democratic-oriented voters.

New Hampshire is “the quintessential purple state,” Rath said.

Republicans don’t think Bolduc has the appeal that Sununu has. Dave Carney, a strategist for Morse’s campaign, told USA TODAY that if Bolduc wins the nomination, he has no chance of beating Hassan.

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“His comments are so intense,” said Carney. “I don’t think independents will be attracted to his style and undisciplined message.”

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu speaks during pre-race ceremonies ahead of the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 17, 2022 in Loudon, New Hampshire.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu speaks during pre-race ceremonies ahead of the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 17, 2022 in Loudon, New Hampshire.

Morse has exalted Bolduc considerably. In the latest quarterly reports, Morse surpassed Bolduc by more than five to one, $550,000 compared to Bolduc’s $85,000. If Bolduc wins, he will be “significantly short of resources against her (Hassan),” Rath said.

Bolduc’s potential nomination is part of a larger nationwide conversation among Republicans, whose once rosy… chances of winning back a majority of the Senate have seemingly slipped into a coin. Democrats currently control the House with a wafer-thin majority of 50-50 (Vice President Kamala Harris casts decisive votes). The GOP must win one more seat to claim the majority.

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Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also complained about “candidate quality,” when asked for his opinion on the upcoming midterm elections at a Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce event last month. He did not mention Bolduc by name.

McConnell predicted that the House has a better chance of overthrowing Republicans than the Senate, noting that “candidate quality has a lot to do with outcome” in Senate races.

Bolduc could join that growing conversation if he emerges victorious on Tuesday night.

Bolduc’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s Voice Has Been Silent

The voice of former President Trump has been largely unheard of in New Hampshire. Trump teased an endorsement, saying he’s “watching that race very closely,” on conservative talk radio on Sept. 1.

He has expressed support for Bolduc, who has backed Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election has been stolen.

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“He said great things, strong guy, tough guy,” Trump said.

Morse, according to reports from conservative media outlet NH Journal, will not earn President Trump’s support.

In an interview with USA TODAY, he said the 2020 election was not stolen.

When asked if he would have objected to voter certification on Jan. 6, Morse gave a quick response: “No.”

President Donald Trump speaks on an airport hanger at a rally a day after formally accepting his party's nomination at the Republican National Convention on August 28, 2020 in Londonderry, New Hampshire.

President Donald Trump speaks on an airport hanger at a rally a day after formally accepting his party’s nomination at the Republican National Convention on August 28, 2020 in Londonderry, New Hampshire.

A tough race regardless of the winner

It doesn’t matter if Bolduc or Morse land the nomination on Tuesday, the nominee will still face a tough competitive race against Hassan.

Hassan, who was governor of the state for four years prior to Sununu and now six years in the Senate, enjoys a high profile among Granite Staters, although the St. Anselm College poll found her voter approval rating at just 44%.

In advertisements across the region, Hassan has branded himself as “the most bipartisan senator.” Rath said it’s hard for anyone to tell if Hassan is a Democrat or Republican just by looking at the ads.

“It’s good stuff,” Rath said.

sen.  Maggie Hassan, DN.H., walks through the Senate Subway during a vote at the US Capitol on September 8, 2022 in Washington, DC.

sen. Maggie Hassan, DN.H., walks through the Senate Subway during a vote at the US Capitol on September 8, 2022 in Washington, DC.

New Hampshire Republicans are also bracing for the fallout from the US Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which overturned the constitutional right to abortion. In New Hampshire, 71% of likely voters identified as pro-choice according to the St. Anselm College poll.

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In New Hampshire, abortion is currently banned after 24 weeks, with exceptions if the pregnant woman’s life is at risk in the event of fatal fetal abnormalities. In a debate hosted by WMUR on Thursday, GOP candidates were asked whether they would support New Hampshire’s ban on the Senate floor.

Bolduc refused to answer, saying, ‘It’s hypothetical. I’m not going to comment.”

Morse embraced his role as state senate president when he moved the ban through the legislature and to Sununu’s office in July 2021. “Yes, I would support it. I was the one who worked hard to pass that law in New Hampshire,” Morse said.

Despite the headwinds and poor polls, Morse expressed confidence going into Tuesday.

“The polls, the best, are on the 13th, so I’m looking forward to it,” said Morse.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Republican primaries in New Hampshire could determine Senate control