By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
A long time ago, the citizens of New Hampshire chose who they wanted to represent them.
The state’s people have always had an appetite for retail politics with handshakes, street walks and questions answered while looking at the candidate’s eyes.
Retail politics is still practiced with a passion in the Granite State, but it pales in effectiveness to the millions of dollars poured into our purple state to influence outcomes.
This election cycle, New Hampshire is blessed to have three wide open races in the Republican primaries for federal office, US Senate and the two US Representative seats.
However, the wide open primaries to date have not sufficiently elevated the people the Republican hierarchy view as the best candidates to challenge the Democratic incumbents.
So in the past week, tens of millions of dollars of outside money is being poured into the federal races by both parties with Democrats trying to pick their opponents and Republicans trying to find more electable general election candidates.
In a recent University of New Hampshire Granite State poll, retired general Donald Bolduc holds a double-digit lead 43-to-22 percent over Senate President Chuck Morse in the Republican primary race. None of the other candidates in the crowded field is above single digits in the poll released at the end of last month.
Bolduc has been running for the US Senate nomination for almost four years now, losing the primary two years ago to Corky Messner, who many viewed as a carpetbagger, but who did have the backing of former President Donald Trump.
Two years ago, Messner lost a lopsided race to the Democratic New Hampshire institution, US Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
This year, incumbent US Sen. Maggie Hassan is believed to be more vulnerable, but is setting records in her fundraising to retain her position.
Last week, two Senate political action committees began spending millions of dollars in the race’s final weeks.
The Democrat’s senate majority PAC purchased $3.2 million in advertising time to run ads attacking Morse as tied to US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and calling him another sleazy politician with ties to lobbyists.
Morse is not really the target, Bolduc is the person the Democratic hierarchy views as the weaker candidate to go against Hassan than the more moderate Morse so they are trying to cement his lead.
But both Republicans are at a disadvantage for one of the key issues in the race, abortion rights with the US Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade.
McConnell’s Senate PAC has established a local subset called the White Mountain PAC which has purchased about $3.5 million in advertising time, and the Senate Republican PAC has reserved $23 million for the general election.
The primary ad calls Morse “one tough conservative.”
The other outside influence concerns endorsement and who will receive the Trump nod for this race.
Bolduc is a 2020 election denier and called for repealing the 17th amendment which allows US Senators to be chosen by popular vote and not by state legislatures.
Gov. Chris Sununu, who urged Morse to enter the race when he decided to run for reelection instead of for the US Senate nomination, called Bolduc a conspiracy theorist kind of candidate who would have a harder time winning against Hassan.
Trump recently said he is watching the race and will decide soon who to support.
However, the recent UNH poll the endorsement of either Sununu or Trump in the race is not necessarily a good thing as 50 percent said a Sununu endorsement would have no effect on their votes, and 44 percent Trump’s endorsement would have no effect on their vote.
The final days will be interesting to watch and to see what affect the influx of outside money has,
1st Congressional District
Much like the US Senate race, the GOP hierarchy has a preferred candidate in the race, while another candidate viewed as more vulnerable in the general election is a possibility.
According to the UNH poll, Matt Mowers, a former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie aide and a member of the Trump administration, is favored by 26 percent of Republicans in the poll and Karoline Leavitt, a former aide to Trump and Rep. Elise Stefanik, is favored by 24 percent.
The only other candidate in double digits in the race is Gail Huff Brown at 16 percent.
Mowers lost to Democratic incumbent Chris Pappas in the 2020 election, and despite Republican attempts to gerrymander the district to make it more GOP friendly, the state Supreme Court has to draw the district when the governor and legislature failed to agree and made only minor changes in the district.
This race has become a little more hard hitting as it draws to a close and the GOP establishment is weighing in for Mowers.
The super PAC for the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership is running an ad calling Leavitt as “woke” and irresponsible, noting she lives with her parents and has run up credit card debt.
She has been running her own ads attacking Mowers as “another swamp doormat.”
The ad also attacks Mowers for voting twice in the 2016 presidential primary election, once in New Hampshire and again in his native New Jersey.
She claims he sabotaged Trump’s agenda by backing Dr. Deborah Brix and Dr. Anthony Fauci during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
2nd Congressional District
Longtime candidate Robert Burns has a lead in the Republican race to take on Ann McLane Kuster, who is seeking her fifth term, according the the UNH poll with 32 percent favoring him over Keene mayor George Hansel with 18 percent.
Lily Tang Williams has 10 percent support, and the largest number of all is undecided voters at 37 percent.
The Democrats’ congressional committee has decided to enter this race as well running ads favoring Burns who is viewed as a more vulnerable candidate in the general election than Hansel, who has the backing of Sununu.
Whoever wins the GOP primary will have to compete with the $1 million Kuster already has in the bank in a district that leans Democratic.
What the Republican hierarchy does not want to see is a line-up of Bolduc, Leavitt and Burns which would put the party at a disadvantage all the way down the ticket with three Trump-aligned candidates from the party’s right-wing.
In recent elections, New Hampshire voters have rejected very conservative candidates for higher office in the general election.
Which is why the parties’ power brokers are trying to put their fingers on the scales to favor more moderate candidates by using millions of dollars in advertising to make the difference.
All this outside money is a gift from the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opening the floodgates for corporate, union and outside money, giving them greater influence than the state’s voters.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.