GOP primary in NH House race draws national spotlight

Greg Nash/Associated Press-Charles Krupa

The Republican primary in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District is attracting national endorsements from key players, raising the stakes for what is shaping up to be a competitive race to unseat Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas.  

Six Republican candidates have filed to run in the district. The GOP primary’s cast of characters includes Gail Huff Brown, a broadcast journalist and the wife of former Ambassador and Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.); former Trump State Department official Matt Mowers; and former Trump spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt.  

New Hampshire state Rep. Tim Baxter, Marine Corps veteran Julian Acciard and sales associate Gilead Towne are also running for the seat.  

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has thrown her support behind Mowers, while House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) has endorsed Leavitt, who also previously worked as a spokesperson for the congresswoman. Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is supporting Huff Brown.  

It’s unclear whether former President Trump will endorse any of the candidates, who all have ties to him, in the primary. However, the high-profile endorsements point to a potentially contentious primary, which could be inconvenient in the GOP’s bid to unseat Pappas.  

“It’s one of the only congressional districts in New England where Republicans really have a good chance,” said veteran New Hampshire GOP strategist Jim Merrill. “It’s a very competitive seat. Republicans only need to pick up a handful to take control of the House in 2022, so this presents one of the best pickup opportunities in America.”  

While polling in the race has been scarce, an internal poll conducted on behalf of Mowers by the Republican firm Cygnal found Mowers leading with 34 percent support, while Huff Brown and Leavitt trailed at 7 and 6 percent, respectively. Baxter and Acciard each garnered 1 percent of support in the poll.  

Mowers, Leavitt and Huff Brown have all had impressive fundraising hauls so far. Mowers raked in more than $450,000 during the first month of his campaign, while Leavitt raised $333,000 in the 10 weeks between announcing her candidacy and the end of the third quarter. Huff Brown said her campaign raised $220,000 less than a month after she filed to run for office.  

Mowers previously ran for the seat last cycle, winning the five-person GOP primary with nearly 60 percent of the vote. He lost to Pappas in the general election by 5 points.
“Matt Mowers has the money and has been working longer at it than anybody else,” said Juliana Bergeron, a longtime Republican activist and New Hampshire Republican national committeewoman.
Like Mowers, Huff Brown is also a familiar face in the district and throughout much of New England. She worked as a broadcast journalist at a number of stations in the region, including WCVB-TV in Boston and NH1 News in Concord. She’s also known in Republican circles due to her husband’s roles as Massachusetts senator and New Hampshire Senate candidate. Scott Brown most recently served as the ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa during the Trump administration.
“Everybody knows her,” Bergeron said. “But I would say at this point everybody knows Matt Mowers too.”  

Meanwhile, Leavitt, a 24-year-old New Hampshire native, is hitting the ground running in the state, working to build up her own name I.D. Last month, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) headlined an event with Leavitt in Manchester. She’s also been making the rounds on national conservative media outlets, including Fox News and One America News.  

There is the chance, as there always is with crowded primaries, that the contest could turn so contentious that the eventual nominee is weakened going into the general election.  

Many New Hampshire Republicans brushed off that notion, saying it was too early to tell what the primary would look like.  

There’s also the question of a potential “shadow primary” of sorts playing out in the state ahead of 2024. Republicans argue that while political watchers in Washington are looking at the race through the lens of the national endorsements, the activists and local endorsements on the ground are what will really play a role in the race.  

“Endorsements may have less weight in New Hampshire than they do in most other states because we’re a small state and people want to know what their candidates stand for,” said New Hampshire Republican National Committeeman Chris Ager. “They don’t necessarily take somebody else’s word for it.”  

However, with New Hampshire being home to a number of closely watched Senate and House races this year, national figures with eyes on 2024 are expected to insert themselves into the state’s political scene.  

“You’re already seeing a number of potential presidential candidates come to New Hampshire, and I think you’re going to see an awful lot of those potential candidates campaign for various candidates in the primary,” Merrill said. 

There is also the question of whether Trump will endorse in the primary. 

While Trump won the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary in 2016 and narrowly lost the state to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton that same year, he lost by a 7-point margin to President Biden in 2020. 

“What happened in Virginia with the governor’s race, that man distanced himself from Trump,” Bergeron said, referring to Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R). “I think that would probably fly better here.”  

Regardless, Pappas, who has served in Congress since 2019, will face an uphill battle in the district. 

New Hampshire’s House redistricting committee approved the GOP’s congressional district plan on Tuesday. The plan would shift more GOP-leaning communities to the 1st District, while adding more Democratic-leaning communities to the 2nd District. The legislation now heads to the floor of the state House, which will take it up in January. 

Tags Chris Pappas Donald Trump Elise Stefanik Glenn Youngkin Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Newt Gingrich Nikki Haley
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