LACONIA, New Hampshire — In a speech lasting roughly 27 minutes, Don Bolduc did not say the word “inflation” until the 24-minute mark. That was just fine with supporters gathered for the Republican Senate contender’s final town hall meeting ahead of Tuesday’s primary.
Higher costs continue to dominate voters’ concerns in New Hampshire, a key swing state in the battle for Senate control, especially as residents prepare to fill home heating oil tanks for the cold New England winter. But that’s not what Bolduc’s ardent grassroots backers showed up to hear about Saturday afternoon in Laconia, his hometown of nearly 17,000 in the Granite State’s “Lakes Region.”
They came to hear the retired Army brigadier general’s populist message about what they believe is a United States in crisis, culturally and in the halls of government institutions, under Democratic leadership in Washington. They came seeking reassurance that Bolduc, 61, might do something about it if he wins the GOP Senate nomination and defeats Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) in the midterm elections.
“Will you support term limits for the Senate and the House? … Will you lead the charge in stopping this crazy wokeism? … What’s your take on the enemies we have domestically right now? I feel like the FBI is an enemy of the American people.” More than simply being satisfied with Bolduc’s response, his supporters believe he has hit on a winning formula.
“If he speaks in this fashion, which he will, when he’s debating Sen. Hassan, I believe Sen. Hassan will be a one-term senator,” said John O’Brien, a 72-year-old retiree who already voted absentee for Bolduc and was among the approximately 100 supporters who packed an American Legion post here to cheer him on.
“If he does that,” O’Brien added, “the people who are quietly concerned about what’s going on in New Hampshire and across the country … they’re going to grab onto that, because this is what they’re looking for. They’re not looking for another, I-endorse-this-person, we threw $1 million into this to buy the candidate.”
Party leaders disagree.
Even with favorable political winds for the GOP, top Republicans in Concord and Washington fear Bolduc would lose to Hassan — and badly. That’s why Gov. Chris Sununu last week endorsed Bolduc’s main opponent in the crowded field of primary candidates, New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse; it’s why a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has poured nearly $5 million into this race attacking Bolduc.
It’s why Senate Majority PAC, the super PAC tied to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), has spent even more meddling in the Republican primary to help Bolduc protect the lead in the polls he has enjoyed since the beginning of this race. Morse has used the Democrats’ intervention to make his case that between himself and Bolduc, he is the only choice electable in November.
“Chuck Schumer spent $6 million against me so far. I honestly believe they think I can beat Maggie Hassan — and we know that,” Morse, 61, told the Washington Examiner during an interview while campaigning in Rochester, New Hampshire, a critical battleground in statewide elections.
Some Republican insiders in New Hampshire believe Bolduc’s lead has narrowed to single digits. With Granite State voters’ history of deciding late, Morse supporters (and Morse himself) express confidence the state senator can pull off an eleventh-hour comeback. But Bolduc, who fell short in his bid for the Republican nomination for Senate in 2020, all but declared the primary won during Saturday’s town hall meeting.
“I am 22 points ahead of people with all the money. I am 22 points ahead of all the people with all the power behind them,” Bolduc told the audience, referring to a University of New Hampshire poll conducted Aug. 25–29 that showed him leading Morse by 21 percentage points, 43% to 22%. Asked by reporters later if his comments were hyperbole uttered in the excitement of the moment, Bolduc said no.
“I think I’m up 22 points today, yes, I don’t see anything that changes that. We did a solid job in all the debates, and my support has not waned at all, and I believe the 20% that were undecided in the last poll, some of those are going to come my way,” Bolduc said. “I’m sure every candidate is getting a slice of that, but we’re very confident.”
Bolduc has a history of controversial and politically charged comments that some Republicans worry make him unelectable in New Hampshire, a state that last voted GOP for president in 2000 and last sent a Republican to the Senate in 2010, a historic GOP wave year. These are among the reasons McConnell and Sununu are working against him in the primary. The other is practical: Bolduc can’t raise money.
Through the Aug. 24 pre-primary deadline for filing fundraising disclosures with the Federal Election Commission, Bolduc reported raising just $579,000 for his entire campaign. With barely $84,000 in cash on hand, Bolduc cannot afford any television advertising and is reliant on radio and digital ads, plus four field staff and grassroots volunteers, to deliver victory on Tuesday. (Morse raised $1.6 million through Aug. 24 and reported $582,000 in cash on hand.)
Hassan, meanwhile, otherwise politically vulnerable, sports a $7.3 million war chest after raising an average of $450,000 per month since January 2017. Although the party in power in the White House typically loses seats in midterm elections and President Joe Biden’s job approval ratings are still languishing near 40%, the fight for the 50-50 Senate tightened over the summer.
Under these more competitive 2022 conditions, the senator’s yawning resources advantage, plus additional funds sure to flood in from national Democrats, would swamp Bolduc in the general election, giving Democrats a crucial edge in New Hampshire.
“It’s not a wave,” cautioned Rochester Mayor Paul Calleghan, who is neutral in the Senate primary and, in the red wave of November 2021, became only the second Republican elected to his position in the last 40 years. “Whoever the Republican nominee is, they’re going to have to work at it — work hard.”
“They’re going to have to show to the voters that they can get things done,” Calleghan, 58, continued. “They want a fighter, but they want somebody who can get things done.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee and Senate Leadership Fund, McConnell’s main super PAC, are vowing to spend big in New Hampshire to cut into Hassan’s resources advantage. But it’s unclear either group is willing to spend big here if Bolduc is the nominee. As of Sunday morning, former President Donald Trump had yet to issue an endorsement in the GOP primary.