Midterm Memo: New Hampshire GOP voters reject establishment candidates for ‘populist MAGA fighters’

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The Republican establishment, such that it is, took a beating in New Hampshire’s closely watched primaries — and this time, they can’t pin the defeats (plural) on intervention by former President Donald Trump.

This time, it was the Democratic Party that meddled and, by design, propelled a slate of Republicans to the nomination for Senate and in two congressional districts who top Republicans in Concord and Washington believe jeopardize their party’s prospects in otherwise very winnable midterm elections in New Hampshire. All told, Democratic groups spent millions of dollars on the effort, successfully countering a spending binge on behalf of the losers by organizations linked to GOP leaders.

To understand why the Democrats invested so much money to manipulate the outcome of Tuesday’s Republican primaries in New Hampshire, take a look at what a veteran GOP operative in New Hampshire told me about the party’s chance of ousting Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) as well as Reps. Annie Kuster (D-NH) and Chris Pappas (D-NH) with Senate nominee Don Bolduc, 1st Congressional District nominee Karoline Leavitt, and 2nd District nominee Robert Burns as the standard bearers:

“The fall will be unpredictable until things settle a little,” this GOP operative prefaced before describing Republican odds of winning in those three races as “competitive at the best and wipeout at the worst.” The worst-case scenario, this party apparatchik said, is “more probable.” This concern is shared by, among others, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

Sununu endorsed New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse in the GOP Senate primary, and a super PAC with ties to McConnell spent nearly $5 million on television in the state bashing Bolduc. No matter; the retired Army brigadier general, mounting his second bid for Senate after losing in the primary in 2020, held off Morse 37.1% to 35.8%.

In the 1st District, a swing seat, McCarthy endorsed Matt Mowers. (He fell to Pappas in the general election two years ago.) A super PAC aligned with McCarthy followed up that backing with a $1.4 million investment targeting Leavitt, an advertising campaign that was then joined by other national Republican groups. No matter; Leavitt steamrolled Mowers 34.7% to 25.4%.

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Meanwhile, Trump was nowhere to be found, sitting out New Hampshire’s primaries for federal office completely.

This is despite the fact that he easily could have endorsed the winners. Throughout their respective campaigns, all three presented themselves in the combative, populist image of the former president — ideologically, rhetorically, and stylistically. And, to be fair, Republican voters ultimately preferred what they were selling to the pragmatic get-things-done conservatism offered by Morse, Mowers, and, in the 2nd District, George Hansel, who also was backed by Sununu.

“The party made narrow but clear choices last night — they want populist ‘MAGA’ fighters regardless of electability,” a Granite State Republican strategist said.

In contests for the House, Senate, and presidency, Republicans have had little to cheer about in New Hampshire this century.

But in this year’s campaign, history and the underlying fundamentals favor the Republican Party. President Joe Biden’s job approval ratings are near 40%, the party in power in the White House typically loses seats in midterm elections, and skyrocketing inflation continues to plague the economy. In New Hampshire, that is translating into acute voter anxiety about what it’s going to cost to fill home heating oil tanks this winter.

Perhaps — perhaps — that’s why New Hampshire Republicans glum about the outcome of the primaries are nonetheless hopeful that Bolduc and Leavitt can overperform expectations. (They give Burns zero chance.)

Multiple Republican insiders in this camp I spoke with Wednesday called Leavitt a strong fundraiser and appealing messenger. “Democrats underestimate her at their peril,” one said. Added another: “Karoline can put Pappas on the defensive.” And Sununu, who cruised to renomination and is headed for an easy victory Nov. 8, was predicting even before Bolduc won the primary that he was plenty viable against Hassan.

“A lot of the Republicans that are running can win that seat,” Sununu told reporters last weekend on the challenge against the Democratic incumbent. Asked if that group included Bolduc, the governor, responding without hesitation, said, “Definitely.”

Democrats, who say Hassan now owns the middle ground that, so often, is crucially important in statewide races in New Hampshire, have a different view, although they are taking the race seriously and approaching it as though they expect it to be highly competitive. “We agree with the many, many New Hampshire Republicans who said Bolduc has no place representing their state in the Senate,” said Amanda Sherman-Baity, spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Democrats are defending a 50-50 Senate under their control, courtesy of the tiebreaking vote wielded by Vice President Kamala Harris. In the House, Republicans are just a handful of seats shy of the majority.

Now, to the field …

Pennsylvania’s 7th District: The Republican Jewish Coalition announced Wednesday it was investing $750,000 in an advertising campaign targeting Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA). The spot, titled “Booming,” is running on broadcast television in Philadelphia and is the group’s latest bid to help the GOP win the House majority in midterm elections.

“Susan Wild thinks this economy is working for middle-class Pennsylvanians,” the voiceover says as the ad opens before cutting to video clips of Wild saying the “economy is booming.”

“Good shape?” the voiceover continues, “Susan Wild is a liberal elitist who voted with [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time. Together they created policies that have caused inflation, causing prices of groceries and energy to skyrocket. … Susan Wild, widely out of touch.”

Wild is being challenged by former Lehigh County Commissioner Lisa Scheller (R). The newly configured district is a swing seat that leans Republican but would have been narrowly carried by Biden in 2020 had the new boundaries existed then. Inside Elections, a nonpartisan political handicapper, rates this contest a “tossup.”

Battle for the Senate: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is poised to transfer a whopping $15 million from his reelection campaign account to the DSCC and individual Democratic Senate candidates, Axios’s Alayna Treene reported this week. That’s a heck of a lot of money and should go a long way toward Democrats’ retaining their resources advantage over the Republicans. Of course, Democrats are going to need it.

Although in a better position to hold the Senate majority than they were three months ago, Democrats are still fighting standard midterm headwinds while defending seats in some major battleground states, among them Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and New Hampshire.

Here’s where Schumer’s cash is going:

$5 million to the DSCC; $1 million each to Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH); $1 million each to Democratic challengers — Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin, Lt. Gov John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, former Judge Cheri Beasley in North Carolina and Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Val Demings (D-FL); plus $500,000 each to Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Patty Murray (D-WA).

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2024 watch: Leavitt’s victory in the Republican primary in New Hampshire’s 1st District was also good news for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a possible presidential candidate.

Cruz was in Londonderry last Thursday to campaign for Leavitt, whom he endorsed over Mowers. The senator’s visit to New Hampshire, a key early primary state on the GOP’s quadrennial presidential nominating calendar, was part of his broader effort to boost Leavitt in the primary.

Cruz bundled $100,000 for her congressional bid, while his super PAC invested $200,000 to advertise on the new nominee’s behalf. Should Leavitt defeat Pappas in November, Cruz would have an ally positioned to help him in New Hampshire in a 2024 primary should he mount a presidential campaign.

Even if Leavitt falls short, the work Cruz put in is sure to have collected him some chits with insurgent-minded GOP primary voters.




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