Five major Republican contenders in New Hampshire will face off against one another on Tuesday in hopes of challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in November’s general election. And it’s the one who has raised comparatively little who may come out on top.
Recent polling shows that the primary, the last of the season, has effectively boiled down to just two candidates: retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc and state Senate President Chuck Morse. Bolduc leads Morse by more than 18 points in the latest average of polls from RealClearPolitics.
The candidates also include investor Bruce Fenton, who self-financed $1.8 million of his campaign; economist and author Vikram Mansharamani, who self-financed about $280,000; and former Londonderry town manager Kevin Smith.
Bolduc has a commanding lead in the polls, but is at a major disadvantage compared to Morse in fundraising. Since the beginning of the year, Morse raised about $1.6 million — nearly triple the amount Bolduc raised (about $580,000). As of Aug. 24, Bolduc only has $84,000 cash on hand, while Morse has about $500,000 more than that. Over 40% of Bolduc’s funds have come from small individual contributions of less than $200 — compared to Morse’s 3%.
Bolduc — who floated the unfounded claim that former President Donald Trump won in 2020 during a recent debate — has positioned himself as a political outsider keen on tackling inflation, bringing manufacturing jobs to the U.S. and reinstating Trump’s border policies.
Read more: Full MarketWatch coverage of inflation.
Cook Political Report rates Hassan’s seat as “lean” Democrat, and Republicans are hopeful it could flip in November. Yet some Republicans — including the state’s GOP governor — have expressed concerns that Bolduc would not be not well-positioned to beat Hassan.
“He’s not a serious candidate. He’s really not,” New Hampshire’s Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said in August. “If he were the nominee, I have no doubt we would have a much harder time trying to win that seat back. So, I don’t take him seriously as a candidate. I don’t think most people do.”
Sununu endorsed Morse on Friday, calling him a “principled conservative” and “the only Republican Senate candidate who can take on Maggie Hassan and win in November.” Morse’s campaign has also received contributions from the governor’s brother, former Sen. John E. Sununu, and former U.S. Rep. Charles Douglas III.
Despite his criticism of Bolduc, the New Hampshire governor is ready to endorse him should Morse lose. “Look, primaries are primaries,” Sununu told the Washington Post. “Go back to 2016 and all the things that were said about Donald Trump. At the end of the day, it’s about what’s best for the country.”
Bolduc consultant Rick Wiley told CNN that those claiming Bolduc wouldn’t be able to defeat Hassan in a general election “have no idea what they are talking about.” “The punditry coming out of the swamp, it is what it is…His ability to connect with the voters is something I haven’t seen in a long time.”
It’s not Bolduc’s first primary go-around either — in 2020, Bolduc launched an unsuccessful Senate bid to replace Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen but lost in the primary. This year, however, he has got a better shot at securing the GOP nomination.
“He didn’t do that poorly two years ago,” said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, of Bolduc losing the primary with 42.5% of the vote. “It was a two man race, but you know, that’s a significant number of voters. So in that sense, he had a head start among New Hampshire voters and he really never stopped campaigning for very long.”
And Bolduc previously outperformed polling: A University of New Hampshire poll from a week before the 2020 election showed Bolduc with 31% of support — more than 10 points lower than what he ended up receiving.
“Even though he hasn’t had the money, I think he has adopted a grassroots strategy, which, you know, traditionally, we always say New Hampshire voters respond to grassroots politicking,” Scala said. “And this just might be the ultimate example of that if he wins” the primary.
While Morse’s cash on hand has allowed him to make a number of TV ad purchases, he’s not the only one making ad buys.
White Mountain PAC, a newly created super PAC whose treasurer is former National Republican Senatorial Committee treasurer Les Williamson, launched a multimillion dollar effort to boost Morse just weeks before the primary. According to FEC filings, the PAC has spent $4.6 million in ads helping Morse.
The Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC, on the other hand, purchased $3.2 million in ad time for a commercial dubbing Morse as “another sleazy politician” backed by “Mitch McConnell’s Washington establishment.” The ad does not mention Bolduc.
“Maggie Hassan and her dark money allies are just confirming what they already know: Chuck Morse is surging in the polls, and he’s the best positioned candidate to beat her this November,” Morse communications director Maya Harvey told POLITICO about the ad.