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Five takeaways from the last primary night of the year

Associated Press/Reba Saldanha

Primary night in New Hampshire, Delaware and Rhode Island — the last primaries of the year — proved to be a good night for incumbents and former President Trump, and a difficult one for many establishment favorites.

While Govs. Dan McKee (D) of Rhode Island and Chris Sununu (R) of New Hampshire won their respective primaries, Tuesday night also saw several wins for Trump-aligned candidates.

Retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc, considered a far-right candidate, was set to win the Republican nomination to take on Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) in the fall. And other similarly controversial, Trump-aligned candidates won elsewhere in the Granite State, throwing into question how successful Republicans will be in what is considered a purple state.

Here’s five takeaways from Tuesday’s primaries.

A far-right victory puts a flippable Senate seat at risk for GOP

Bolduc, a controversial hard-right candidate, looked set to prevail in New Hampshire’s Republican Senate primary and take on Hassan in November, putting one of Republicans’ best chances of flipping a Senate seat at risk. 

Bolduc beat back a challenge against state Senate President Chuck Morse (R), considered the establishment favorite with endorsements from high-profile figures like Sununu. The retired Army general, in contrast, was considered more aligned with Trump. He has previously falsely claimed Trump won the 2020 election. 

Sununu last month called Bolduc a “conspiracy theorist-type candidate” and warned Republicans would have a harder time competing in the Senate race if he were to win.

Hassan is still considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators up for reelection. She won her last election in 2016 by a tenth of a percentage point, and the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates her seat “lean Democrat.”

But Bolduc’s nomination likely handed her a lifeline given that Republicans say it’s unclear whether the far-right candidate can demonstrate that he can shift his campaign to appeal to a wider set of voters in the general election.

Trump scores more wins

While Trump didn’t wade into any of Tuesday’s primaries, the former president still has reason to celebrate.

Two of the most closely watched Republican primaries in New Hampshire saw Trump-aligned candidates prevail in their respective primaries: Bolduc won the GOP Senate primary to go head-to-head with Hassan, while former Trump White House aide Karoline Leavitt won her primary to take on Rep. Chris Pappas (D) in the state’s 1st Congressional District.

In both cases, the Trump-aligned candidates beat out challengers with high-profile backers of their own. Morse had the support of Sununu in the GOP Senate primary. And Matt Mowers (R), a former State Department official, had endorsements from the likes of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).

Both Bolduc and Leavitt have echoed Trump’s claims about 2020 election fraud and won their primaries against more establishment-aligned candidates.

But the Republican nominees could pose headaches for their party’s prospects in November, especially in a state like New Hampshire, which has a Republican governor and GOP-led state legislature but whose congressional delegation are all Democrats. 

Sununu has a mixed night

On one hand, New Hampshire’s popular Republican governor had a good night, easily gliding through his primary and setting up a likely fourth term as chief executive of the Granite State. But on the other hand, Sununu also suffered a high-profile defeat in the proxy battle that was the state’s GOP Senate primary.

Sununu’s last-minute endorsement of Morse did little to push Morse over the finish line in the primary to take on Hassan, the Democratic incumbent.

Instead, Sununu and other Republicans must contend with Bolduc, who has referred to the governor as a “Chinese communist sympathizer,” as their best hope of flipping the Senate seat. 

While Sununu last weekend said he would end up supporting whoever won the Senate primary, Bolduc’s win will likely be a source of frustration for the governor, who said last month that Bolduc was a “conspiracy theorist-type candidate” who would make it harder for the GOP to flip the Senate seat in November. 

Dem meddling pays off 

Democrats’ involvement in multiple GOP primaries in New Hampshire has appeared to pay off, though critics argue it carries risks for November.

The Senate Majority PAC, which is aligned with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), spent $3.2 million on an ad campaign against Morse in the GOP Senate primary to give the far-right Bolduc an edge. Republicans are doubtful Bolduc will be able to pull off a win as easily in November. 

Meanwhile, in the state’s 2nd Congressional District, a Democratic PAC reportedly spent money looking to boost Republican candidate Robert Burns, a former 2016 Trump delegate. While Burns hasn’t won the race as of early Wednesday morning, he looks poised to beat his chief Republican rival, Keene, N.H., Mayor George Hansel, who was backed by Sununu.

The Democratic meddling in the primaries has been criticized by Republicans as well as some Democrats, who warn the strategy runs the risk of giving controversial candidates a shot at winning office. The tactic could prove safer in New Hampshire given the state’s purple political leanings, though both races have been considered some of the most competitive for this cycle.

A nail-biter in Rhode Island

McKee eked out a win in the Democratic primary for the Rhode Island gubernatorial race after fending off four other competitors, including former CVS executive Helena Foulkes, who only trailed the incumbent by single digits as of late Tuesday night.

McKee was first elevated to the position of governor in the state last year when then-Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) left her position to serve under the Biden administration as Commerce secretary. 

Among some of his fellow Democratic contenders were Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, physician Luis Daniel Muñoz and former state Secretary of State Matt Brown. While recent polling showed McKee holding a narrow lead over his Democratic contenders, it also showed Gorbea polling much more competitively in the primary. 

The night’s results meant McKee narrowly dodged becoming the first incumbent governor since 2018 to lose a primary; former Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) was the last state executive to be ousted in a primary.

McKee will take on Republican candidate Ashley Kalus in the general election. 

Should McKee prevail in November, which appears likely given that his race has been rated by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report as “solid Democrat,” he’s on track to secure his first full-term as governor. 

Tags Chris Sununu Chris Sununu Chuck Morse Delaware don bolduc Don Bolduc Donald Trump Maggie Hassan Maggie Hassan New Hampshire Rhode Island

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