Retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc has won the Republican primary for Senate in New Hampshire, potentially imperiling the GOP’s chances of defeating Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in November.
Bolduc prevailed over state Senate President Chuck Morse, the preferred candidate of moderate Republicans like Chris Sununu, the state’s popular governor, who had endorsed Morse last week. Morse, who was also backed by a group aligned with GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, conceded on Wednesday morning.
A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Bolduc has called Sununu a “Chinese Communist sympathizer” and embraced the baseless conspiracy theory that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election.
“I signed a letter with 120 other generals and admirals saying that Donald Trump won the election and, damn it, I stand by [it],” Bolduc said at an August debate. During that debate, Bolduc also said he supported repealing the 17th Amendment, which allows for the direct election of senators, and suggested he was open to abolishing the FBI.
Recent polling had shown Bolduc with a shrinking — yet still substantial — lead over Morse. And although Bolduc had raised only $600,000 and had $83,000 on hand, he likely benefited from Democratic ads attacking Morse. In a number of races around the country, Democratic groups have worked to boost far-right candidates in GOP primaries, a risky strategy that Democrats hope will help them avoid losses this November.
“It’s no surprise that the Democrats fear Chuck Morse,” Sununu wrote in a New Hampshire Union Leader editorial on Sunday. “They are so afraid at the prospect of Chuck Morse taking on Sen. Hassan that her liberal ally, Sen. Chuck Schumer, is meddling in our Republican primary, spending over $3 million to falsely attack Chuck Morse. That should tell you all you need to know.”
Fellow Republican Sununu also criticized Bolduc in a radio interview last month. “He’s not a serious candidate, he’s really not. If he were the nominee, I have no doubt we would have a much harder time trying to win that seat back,” the governor said.
Hassan, a former governor who was first elected to the Senate in 2016, is seen as one of the more vulnerable Democrats up for reelection this year. A St. Anselm College poll last month found her approval rating at 44%, with only 39% of respondents saying she deserved reelection.
Trump had not formally endorsed any candidate in the race but spoke favorably of Bolduc earlier this month, saying in a radio interview, “He said some great things, strong guy, tough guy. I think he’s doing very well, too. I hear he’s up, he’s up quite a bit.”
In a series of Wednesday morning posts to his social media site Truth Social, Trump congratulated Bolduc, calling him "a great gentleman" and celebrating that the "'Trumpiest' people ALL won in New Hampshire last night." Karoline Leavitt, a former Trump White House press staffer, was victorious in the Republican primary for the state's First District and will challenge Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas.
Hassan’s 2016 victory came by the narrowest of margins, about a thousand votes, or 0.14%, while Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in New Hampshire by a similarly tight margin. President Biden won the state comfortably in 2020, defeating Trump by seven points.
Republicans had tried to recruit Sununu to run for the seat. Sununu declined, however, and is instead running for reelection this year in what is expected to be an easy race for him.
In January, Sununu told the Washington Examiner he was planning on challenging Hassan until he talked to other Republican senators about their plans to do nothing until the 2024 election.
“They were all, for the most part, content with the speed at which they weren’t doing anything,” Sununu said. “It was very clear that we just have to hold the line for two years. OK, so I’m just going to be a roadblock for two years. That’s not what I do.”
According to the Examiner report, Sununu “said the message from virtually every GOP senator he chatted with — and he chatted with most of them — was that they plan to do little more with the majority they are fighting to win this November than obstruct President Joe Biden until, ‘hopefully,’ 2024 ushers a Republican into the White House.”
“It bothered me that they were OK with that,” Sununu added.