Republican Senate candidate Don Bolduc of New Hampshire battled his own party and won.
Now, the retired Army brigadier general has a bigger fight ahead, as he tries to defeat former governor and first-term Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in a crucial Senate contest in a key swing state that may determine if the GOP wins back the chamber’s majority in November’s midterm elections.
“You sent the biggest signal to the establishment tonight. They are going to work for you,” Bolduc said late on Tuesday night, after declaring victory in New Hampshire’s GOP Senate primary.
Bolduc’s top rival for the nomination, longtime New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse, conceded early Wednesday morning, and the AP projected Bolduc as the winner a couple of hours later.
Bolduc was part of a trio of supporters of former President Donald Trump – joining Karoline Leavitt in New Hampshire’s First Congressional District and Bob Burns in the Second Congressional District – who edged out rivals backed by more establishment Republicans to secure nomination victories as the Granite State, Rhode Island and Delaware held the final primaries of the 2022 election cycle.
Additionally, New Hampshire was host to the final in a series of high-profile and competitive Republican primaries, which throughout the past six months have often pitted conservative candidates supported by mainstream Republicans against far-right contenders often aligned with Trump and his legions of MAGA loyalists.
And while Trump uncharacteristically stayed neutral in all three federal primaries, all three MAGA style, populist, outsider contenders in New Hampshire prevailed – in primaries where only a plurality of votes was needed to win – even as they were targeted and massively outspent by more mainstream GOP super PACs and pro-Democratic groups meddling in the Republican primaries.
The victories by Bolduc, Leavitt and Burns are leaving some Republican strategists apoplectic. A veteran GOP consultant called the results in New Hampshire “disastrous,” while another termed it a “s— show,” with just eight weeks to go until the general election. Both operatives asked for anonymity to speak more freely.
Democrats appeared to celebrate, viewing Bolduc, Leavitt and Burns as weak general election challengers.
“It’s settled. All GOP nominees for federal office are 100% MAGA,” Democratic state Rep. Matt Wilhelm tweeted.
Bolduc, who served 10 tours of duty in the war in Afghanistan, was making his second straight run for the GOP Senate nomination. 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 appeared to embrace 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.”
While Bolduc gave New Hampshire conservatives plenty of red meat, there were 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.”
“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, New Hampshire, where he was born and raised. “When God made Bolducs, he made oak trees, not willow trees.”
“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.
Morse, who was endorsed last week by GOP Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, who remains very popular with Granite State Republicans, was likely wounded by two other conservative candidates on the ballot – Kevin Smith and Vikram Mansharamani – who combined grabbed nearly 20% of the primary vote, according to incomplete results.
And Morse was targeted on TV by a massive seven-figure ad buy from the Senate Majority PAC, the top super PAC supporting Senate Democrats that is aligned with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Democrats viewed Bolduc as the weaker general election candidate.
Hassan slammed Bolduc’s “radical, backward-looking agenda.”
But Bolduc told Fox News on Tuesday night that “I just won the election, so I’m not the weaker candidate” and predicted that the move by Democrats is “going to blow up big time.”
In New Hampshire’s First Congressional District, which has long been a highly contested swing House district, Leavitt will now face off in November against two-term Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas, whom Republicans view as vulnerable amid a political climate that for the past year had favored the GOP.
Republicans need a net gain of just five seats in the 435-member House in November to take back the chamber’s majority they lost in the 2018 elections, and they’re heavily eyeing New Hampshire’s First District, which stretches from the Massachusetts border, Manchester, and the Seacoast region, up through the Lakes region and into the White Mountains.
“Our home-grown grassroots, America First campaign prevailed. We won tonight,” Leavitt said to cheers from supporters as she delivered a primary victory speech at an event just a mile from Bolduc’s primary night headquarters.
The 25-year-old 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 – will become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress if she wins in November.
Leavitt topped Matt 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, who was making his second bid for Congress.
Mowers easily captured the 2020 congressional nomination in the district before losing to Pappas by five points in the general election.
The increasingly combustible battle between Leavitt and Mowers had both showcasing their Trump administration experience. However, Mowers did not go as far as Leavitt when it comes to Trump’s 2020 election loss to President Biden. Leavitt is a firm supporter of the former president’s re-litigating of his 2020 loss. Mowers, with more pragmatic language, had said he continues to have concerns about voting “irregularities around the country.”
Similar to the Senate primary, some of Mowers’ support from conservative voters was likely siphoned off by two other candidates: 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, and former state senator and executive councilor Russell Prescott, who combined, according to incomplete results, for nearly 28% of the vote.
Mowers – who in June was endorsed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., who are the top two Republicans in the chamber – was 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, spent more than $1 million to blast Leavitt on the airwaves.
Leavitt, ahead of the primary, 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.”
And following her victory speech, she told Fox News that she was optimistic that Republicans would put aside their differences and rally around her.
In the state’s Second Congressional District GOP primary race, Burns will now face Democrat Rep. Annie Kuster, a ferocious fundraiser who’s running for her sixth two-year term in the House.
The former Hillsborough County treasurer and 2018 GOP congressional candidate showcased his “pro-Trump” credentials as he edged out Keene Mayor George Hansel, who was supported by Sununu as he jumped into the race earlier this year.
Pro-Democratic groups meddled in the primary, boosting the conservative credentials of Burns, whom they viewed as the less electable contender in November.
Democrats and pro-Democratic groups quickly targeted all three Republican primary winners over the combustible issue of abortion.
“Voters are at a clear crossroad: give extreme anti-abortion candidates power to further restrict access to abortion – and even birth control – in New Hampshire and nationwide, or elect leaders who will protect their fundamental rights of bodily autonomy and privacy,” Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund vice president Kayla Montgomery argued in a statement.
Fox News’ Hillary Vaughan and Kaitlin Sprague contributed to this report