Democratic Backfire Shaping Up in New Hampshire

The party spent millions of dollars to prop up a GOP candidate it viewed as ‘too extreme’ to defeat the incumbent Democrat. Now, that candidate might win.

 AP/Mary Schwalm, file
Don Bolduc during a debate September 7, 2022, at Henniker, New Hampshire. AP/Mary Schwalm, file

Few outside the Granite State were talking about the U.S. Senate race there until last week. Now, it looks like the candidate that Democrats backed in the GOP primary — to the tune of $3.2 million in ad spending against his opponent — because they thought he was “too extreme” to win the general election may be going to Washington.

Real Clear Politics projects the seat as a “GOP pickup.” The latest poll shows the retired Army brigadier general, Don Bolduc, with a one-point lead against the incumbent Democrat, Maggie Hassan. The outcome of this race could determine the balance of the upper house.

Democrats thought they had this in the bag. General Bolduc, who retired from the Army after 33 years of service and 10 tours of duty in Afghanistan, was trailing in the polls and struggling to raise money. He ran no television ads during the primary because he couldn’t afford them.

The national media had written him off. Even New Hampshire’s moderate Republican governor, Chris Sununu, dismissed him as a “conspiracy theory type,” though he has since endorsed the general and appeared with him on Fox News’s “Hannity” in order to show a “unified Republican ticket.”

On Wednesday, less than an hour after Present Biden delivered his primetime address condemning political violence and singling out the “extreme MAGA element of the Republican Party,” and before the only televised debate between the candidates, General Bolduc alleges he dodged a punch from a Libertarian activist, Joseph Hart, outside the debate hall.

While the alleged assault is now being called into question after Libertarian Party members released footage of the incident, some in the media — mainly those who lean to the right — are running with the punch narrative. “Another attack on a Republican,” Mark Levin tweeted with a link to a Breitbart article decrying this as a physical attack. Sean Hannity mentioned the punch on his program but didn’t include the Libertarian angle, leaving viewers to make their own assumptions: See, political violence occurs on both sides.

The Sun reviewed several angles of video footage of the incident, and though the scene is chaotic and Mr. Hart can be seen aggressively pursuing General Bolduc with his camera, no punch or physical attack from Mr. Hart is visible. Mr. Hart was arrested and charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct, not assault, according to the Goffstown Police Department. 

While it’s true that political violence occurs from all sides — think not just of Paul Pelosi or the events of January 6, 2021, but also the attacks on Representatives Lee Zeldin and Rand Paul and the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise — it’s also clear that both sides use violence perpetrated against them for political capital. “It happened to me outside, just before I came in here,” General Bolduc said in response to a question on the topic. Condemning political violence was just about the only thing on which both candidates could agree — along with a fondness for blueberry pancakes.

In an election year when voters are most concerned about economic issues, rising crime, and abortion rights, Democrats’ focus on 2020 election denialism and January 6 as a threat to democracy is not landing. “Granite Staters are hurting. They’re making choices between heating and eating,” General Bolduc said.

Senator Hassan’s campaign has lasered in on three messages: that she is “the most bipartisan senator,” that General Bolduc would vote for a federal abortion ban, and that his 2020 election denial claims and MAGA positions are “too extreme for New Hampshire.” 

General Bolduc counters that Ms. Hassan votes with President Biden and the Democrats more than 95 percent of the time and is to blame for inflation and high gas prices. He softened his position on legalized abortion after winning the GOP primary, saying he opposes any federal ban and supports the New Hampshire law permitting the procedure until the third trimester. 

Ms. Hassan told viewers not to buy it. General Bolduc also reversed his position on the 2020 election being “stolen” from President Trump, and says he doesn’t want to discuss it further. “We need to look forward. Elections are about the future,” he said at the debate.

If General Bolduc pulls off a win, it will be a shock to the Democrats and the political establishment. He built his support the old-fashioned way, holding more than 75 town halls and bringing his message directly to voters — a respected tradition in the first-in-the-nation primary state. Audience members the Sun spoke with at a Bolduc town hall a couple weeks ago said they were impressed with his plainspokenness, his outsider status, and that he didn’t use notes. 

“He’s just quick. He’s not afraid of a question,” a supporter, Grace Fortune, told the Sun. General Bolduc strode onto the stage, telling jokes about Ms. Hassan’s “career politician” doublespeak and multiple homes. The message: I am one of you.

Ms. Hassan, by contrast, has played it cautious throughout her campaign, rarely holding open public events, handpicking what press outlets could attend them, and using television ads as her main form of communication. She has raised more than $38 million and has been running ads in the state for at least two years. 

Anyone in New Hampshire will tell you it seems impossible to watch television or a video on YouTube without seeing a 30-second spot on Ms. Hassan’s support for legalized abortion. The ubiquity might even hurt her: My 4-year-old looked up from his iPad recently and asked, “Who is Maggie Hassan?”

Meanwhile, it’s difficult to find her in person. “I’m out and about talking to Granite Staters all the time,” she replied to a question about her closed events last week. “I shop at Market Basket. I go to Dunkin’ Donuts.” Social media erupted with jokes about how she more likely shops at Whole Foods.

In 2016, Ms. Hassan won her Senate seat by 1,017 votes against the Republican incumbent, Kelly Ayotte. The Libertarian Party candidate, Aaron Day, earned more than 17,000 votes. This year, the Libertarian Party needs to win at least 4 percent in either the gubernatorial or the Senate race to secure ballot access for 2024. The liberty community is divided on how to cast their votes.

“I think the biggest power we have is to be the spoiler,” a Libertarian Party of New Hampshire communications committee member, Bill Barger, tells the Sun. Yet he recognizes “there is a divide on this, and I think it’s going on nationally.” The Libertarian Senate candidate of Arizona, Marc Victor, dropped out of his race last week and endorsed the GOP candidate, Blake Masters — drawing condemnation from many in the Libertarian Party.

If there is a red wave next week, as recent polling suggests, Democrats in swing states like New Hampshire may have to rethink their strategy of pushing for the most “extreme” GOP opponents. General Bolduc will also have been proved right about one thing: Voters care most about “heating and eating,” a phrase he reiterates on the trail like a tic.

The New York Sun

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