Could This Telegenic Republican With a Talent for Soundbites Emerge as the AOC of the Right?

Karoline Leavitt, running in New Hampshire’s first district, is closing in on the incumbent.

AP/Charles Krupa
Karoline Leavitt at a campaign event September 29, 2022, at Manchester, New Hampshire. AP/Charles Krupa

If Karoline Leavitt wins in November, she may be the right’s answer to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

With a telegenic face  and a talent for soundbites, Ms. Leavitt is running as an unapologetic MAGA Republican in New Hampshire’s purple first congressional district against a two-term Democrat, Congressman Chris Pappas. If elected, the 25-year-old  would be the youngest woman ever to serve in Congress.

Like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez on the left, Ms. Leavitt is often called “too extreme” on the right. She says the 2020 election was “undoubtedly stolen” from President Trump, wants to abolish the Department of Education, and applauded the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Yet with record inflation and 74 percent of Granite State voters saying the country is “headed in the wrong direction,” this underdog might win in November. 

The most recent poll shows the race as a dead heat, with Ms. Leavitt trailing Mr. Pappas 47 percent to 48 percent. The district was just moved to “leans GOP” from “toss up,” in the tally by Real Clear Politics. “We have seen wave after wave in that First District cause it to go from one party to the other,” the director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Neil Levesque, tells the Sun. “I would say this election is anybody’s guess.”

Mr. Levesque taught Ms. Leavitt at St. Anselm College. She went on to be an assistant press secretary under Mr. Trump and communications director for House Republican Conference chairwoman, Representative Elise Stefanik. Ms. Leavitt is a master at messaging and social media: She has more than 55,000 followers on Twitter and regularly appears on right wing cable news shows.

Love or hate her positions, Ms. Leavitt knows how to articulate them, and she has absorbed the lessons of the Trump presidency: be combative, dominate the press, and never apologize. She calls herself the “homegrown conservative fighter.”

“She doesn’t flinch. She gives as good as she gets,” a University of New Hampshire professor in political science, Dante Scala, tells the Sun. “Is it possible that with her particular set of skills she becomes the face — not the face of the party, but a face of the party — at the congressional level. I think that’s possible.”

No one expected Ms. Leavitt to get this far. Like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who in 2018 defied polling and beat a 10-term congressman, Joe Crowley, Ms. Leavitt trailed the establishment-favored frontrunner — the 2020 nominee for the seat — Matt Mowers in the GOP primary until the end.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, spent more than $1.3 million supporting Mr. Mowers. Defending Main Street, a PAC that “supports centrist Republicans who win in swing districts,” took out ads attacking her. “The media, the Washington establishment, and the Democrats certainly counted us out,” Ms. Leavitt said in her primary victory speech

Now, the Leavitt campaign is pivoting for the general election, and its efforts appear to be working. Mr. Trump endorsed Ms. Leavitt on Truth Social this weekend, yet there is no mention of it on Ms. Leavitt’s Twitter feed or campaign website, despite diligent listings of other endorsements. In a debate Tuesday night, Mr. Pappas called Ms. Leavitt “one of the most radical candidates we’ve ever seen nominated for public office in New Hampshire.”

“My opponent continues labeling me as an extremist,” Ms. Leavitt countered. “Frankly, I think that is laughable.” 

Other Republican  congresswomen have tried to pick up the mantle of “Right Wing AOC” or to form a GOP version of “the Squad,” the group of far-left congresswomen that includes Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Representatives Ihan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib.

In 2020, a newly elected representative of New York, Nicole Malliotakis, and three freshman GOP congresswomen formed a group that aimed to rival the Squad, called “the Force.” None of these women, apparently, had the “it factor” necessary to make the name catch.

Representatives Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene are sometimes considered right-wing corollaries to AOC; they also wield social media for press attention and operate at the extremes of the party. Yet they come with the baggage of “Jewish space lasers,” the “gazpacho police,” and QAnon conspiracy talk — seeming disqualifiers for a serious political future.

Representative Mayra Flores, a Mexican-born conservative who won a special election for Texas’s 34th district in June, is also a potential contender for the right wing AOC moniker. In her 30s and telegenic, she defied the odds by flipping a blue, heavily Hispanic district red for the first time in more than 100 years, and is part of a growing movement of Hispanics turning to the GOP.

It’s unlikely any Republican woman, though, will get the media plaudits, magazine covers, and invitations to the Met Gala that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has enjoyed. Democrats control these cultural institutions. Yet Republicans do need a face to attract young, female voters to the party.

As a member of Gen Z who doesn’t hide from her youth but emphasizes it on the campaign trail, Ms. Leavitt could fit the bill. She probably won’t do makeup tutorials or dance for her followers, but she does say one of her priorities “is to be the young conservative voice that we desperately need.”

Mr. Scala has some reservations about the AOC-Leavitt comparisons. “I think of AOC as somewhat of a policy entrepreneur,” he offers, citing the Green New Deal. “I wonder about Leavitt — does she have that? Does she have in her mind a set of signature policies and positions to which she wants to move her party?”

Ms. Leavitt’s mentor, Ms. Stefanik, is no policy maverick, Mr. Scala adds. He also says that once Ms. Ocasio-Cortez won her Democratic primary, she was in a safely blue seat. Ms. Leavitt, by contrast, would represent a swing district. This could block her from advocating for more radical policies.

Mr. Levesque, however, thinks that if elected, Ms. Leavitt would be “a change agent.” He says: “This is not somebody who is going to go along to get along. When you see someone who has this kind of trajectory, it usually doesn’t stop.”


Ms. McCaughey is a native New Yorker now based in New Hampshire. Her interests include politics, drug policy, and counterculture.

The New York Sun

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