GOP prospects dim in New Hampshire Senate race

Republicans are facing an increasingly uphill battle in New Hampshire’s Senate race as polls show their chosen candidate, Don Bolduc, losing ground to Sen. Maggie Hassan (D). 

Observers had long seen Hassan as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the upper chamber, but that changed earlier this month when GOP voters chose Bolduc, a hard-right candidate aligned with former President Trump, as the party’s nominee.

Most polls since then have shown Bolduc trailing Hassan by as much as double digits, fueling GOP concerns that the Republican won’t be able to turn his campaign around in time before the Nov. 8 general election.

“The question will be whether Gen. Bolduc can pivot to a general election campaign, mobilize the resources and the organization and message to draw strong contrast with Sen. Hassan,” said Jeff Grappone, a consultant and former aide to two Republican senators from New Hampshire.

Bolduc, a retired Army general, quickly tacked to the center on some issues following the state’s Sept. 13 primary, rejecting a national abortion ban and saying the 2020 election was not stolen after repeatedly declaring Trump the winner during the primary.

But his attempts to broaden his appeal among the purple state’s general electorate so far seem not to have had much effect. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has rated the contest as “lean Democrat” for months, and a slew of polls show Hassan leading him by as much as 13 points. The latest survey, released Thursday, found Bolduc trailing her by 8 points.

Still, Republicans are bullish that they can flip the seat if they manage to tie her to issues that rank highly among the electorate, like the economy and inflation.

“It’s up to Gen. Bolduc to be on offense and to link Sen. Hassan closely with the economic challenges that are facing New Hampshire voters,” Grappone said. 

“And in New Hampshire, energy prices and electricity prices are eye-popping,” he continued. “It’s a topic that voters are really tuning in to now as they start to see their winter heating bills coming along, and it’ll be up to Gen. Bolduc to really focus in like a laser on those kitchen table issues that are really top of mind for New Hampshire voters.”

Inflation isn’t the only problem on voters’ minds, however. Emerson College-WHDH and the University of New Hampshire’s post-primary polls found abortion as the No. 2 issue for voters.

Throughout her campaign, Hassan has latched on to the abortion issue, hoping the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade this summer will motivate Democrats to turn out. She released her first abortion ad within a week of the court’s decision.

Bolduc, meanwhile, said during the primary that he would “always default for a system that protects lives from beginning to end” but told Fox News after winning the nomination that Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) national 15-week abortion ban “makes no sense.”

“Women on both sides of the issue will get a better voice at the state level,” Bolduc told the outlet.

Hassan has since continued tying Bolduc to Graham’s legislation, claiming Bolduc is an “anti-choice extremist” who would still vote for it.

“His dangerous ideas — like a national abortion ban and defunding Social Security — will lead his campaign to defeat,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Amanda Sherman-Baity. “And we agree with the many, many New Hampshire Republicans who said Bolduc has no place representing their state in the Senate.”

Hassan has also attacked Bolduc on abortion for saying she should “get over it” when asked by a WMUR reporter earlier this month about her focus on the issue.

“Bolduc still carries all that same baggage that he had before the primary that appeals to that Republican base, which is that crazy, wacky stuff he does,” said Kathy Sullivan, the former chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

“I don’t think the Hassan campaign is going to let him make that pivot without a lot of pushback,” Sullivan added.

Kate Constantini, Bolduc’s campaign spokesperson, pushed back on notions that the campaign was losing traction.

“From the beginning, General Bolduc has been underestimated by the pundits and critics and yet he won his primary without spending a dime on television advertising,” she said. “He has begun the important work of unifying the Republican Party and building a broad coalition to unseat Senator Hassan. We’d much rather be sitting in our position than Senator Hassan’s, who is so unwilling to defend her 97 percent voting record with President Biden that she is ducking debates and town hall meetings.”

Despite Democrats’ continued attacks on Bolduc for his pre-primary positions, some of his former detractors within the party came to his side once he gained the nomination.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who had endorsed Bolduc’s primary challenger last-minute, once labeled Bolduc a “conspiracy theorist-type candidate” who would sink GOP’s chances to flip the seat.

But Sununu, who declined to run for the Senate seat despite urging from Republican leaders in Washington, has since thrown his support behind Bolduc.

“Pre-primary, Sununu was saying he’s not a serious candidate,” Sullivan said. “Now Sununu’s talking like he’s the best thing since sliced bread.”

Sununu told Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade last week that there is “no question” Hassan will lose.

“She is one of the most unliked, with the lowest favorability ratings, senators in the country,” Sununu continued. “Gen. Bolduc won a tough-fought primary with very, very little money, virtually no money, and so now he’s raising money, he’s getting some national attention. He’s an amazing individual with this background, this war-hero background, that just wants to stand up and serve.”

Groups on both sides are still pouring money into the race, insisting the contest remains competitive.

The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.), and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) have continued running ads in the state since the primary, not giving up on Bolduc’s chances despite his uphill battle.

“Maggie Hassan and her allies spent mountains of money smearing Gen. Bolduc before the primary even ended and the race remains extremely competitive,” said NRSC spokesperson T.W. Arrighi. “Granite Staters are still getting to know the General, but they do know that Maggie Hassan is a rubber stamp for the Biden Agenda that has left New Hampshire behind.”

The Hassan campaign isn’t letting their guard down, either.

“Maggie Hassan won her last race by 1,017 votes and national Republicans are spending $57 million this cycle to defeat her,” said Hassan campaign spokesperson Sydney Peterson. “We’re not taking anything for granted — and anyone who thinks this race isn’t going to come down to the wire just doesn’t know New Hampshire.”

Tags Chris Sununu Chris Sununu Don Bolduc Donald Trump Maggie Hassan New Hampshire Senate race Trump

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