Republicans got the nominee they dreaded in New Hampshire’s Senate race. Yet hours after Army Gen. Don Bolduc emerged victorious from the primary, the Senate GOP struck a new tone: Maybe he’ll do, after all.
As Republicans’ confidence has dimmed in other top Senate battlegrounds, the party appears to be reluctantly getting behind Bolduc, unwilling to turn their backs just yet on a state where the Democratic incumbent is underwater — and where President Joe Biden remains deeply unpopular.
“I think we’ve got to do what we can,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said in an interview, acknowledging Bolduc was the “voters’ choice” in his party’s primary on Tuesday. “Every one of these on the map could be the difference between the majority or not.”
Bolduc — who lost the state’s 2020 Senate primary — ran as a Trump loyalist, denying that Biden was legitimately elected and expressing support for abolishing the FBI, among other controversial stances. A group tied to GOP leaders supported his opponent instead, while Democrats tried to get Bolduc nominated, seeing him as a weaker candidate to challenge incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).
On Wednesday, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Rick Scott (R-Fla.) spoke to Bolduc on the telephone and said in an interview the group is “going to be all-in to make sure he wins.”
And Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 member of GOP leadership, said in an interview he’s “fully supportive” of Bolduc and will contribute to his campaign. He said Republicans should “absolutely” stay in the race with Bolduc as their nominee, and that no one should pull their resources.
At stake is control of the evenly divided Senate, which the GOP earlier this election cycle had expected to easily win back. The emergence of abortion rights as a major issue, as well as Republican struggles with fundraising and messaging in key races. has left the GOP without a significant advantage ahead of November.
Republicans in interviews advised against abandoning New Hampshire, citing Hassan’s relatively low profile and the closely contested Senate map. “We have to proceed on the assumption that all these races are winnable,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), a former NRSC chair.
Top Republican super PAC Senate Leadership Fund currently has $23 million on the books, and whether it stays in will determine whether the state remains in play for the GOP. The PAC, which is closely aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said it has not yet made a change to its ad plans as a result of Bolduc’s primary victory.
The party’s apparent change in tune on Bolduc comes after another Republican super PAC poured a last-minute $4.5 million into New Hampshire’s Republican Senate primary in an effort to boost state Senate President Chuck Morse, a more establishment candidate who lost Tuesday by just over 1 percentage point, according to unofficial election results.
White Mountain PAC, the dark money group funding the efforts, also attacked Bolduc and his “crazy ideas” in an ad.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), the state’s senior senator who won reelection handily in 2020, said even with Bolduc as the nominee, “it’s going to be a tough race. It’s a tough year.”
“It’s going to be about the choice that people face about their future. And that there wasn’t much difference between Chuck Morse’s positions on issues and Don Bolduc’s,” she said.
Still, Senate Democrats were invested in Morse’s loss. Their Senate Majority PAC put more than $3 million into the Republican primary to bring down support for Morse, a sign that both of the party’s major super PACs believed Bolduc would be a weaker general election candidate.
Senate Leadership Fund, which many Republican operatives speculate was behind the pro-Morse effort, did not release a statement congratulating Bolduc, as it has done after nearly every Republican Senate primary this year.
Republicans currently have a significant leg up in New Hampshire ad spending from now until the November election. That’s expected to change, though, once SMP — which has not yet plunked down fall reservations in the state — begins to book ad time.
With SLF’s sizable ad buy, Republicans have nearly $30 million booked in the state this fall, compared to just under $20 million from Democrats. Of that, $6.5 million is from the NRSC, and $4.4 million from Democrats’ campaign committee.
But Hassan enters the general election with a massive fundraising advantage over Bolduc, closing out August with $7.3 million cash on hand, according to a pre-primary campaign finance report. Bolduc reported just $83,900 on hand as of Aug. 24 — and Republican operatives throughout the primary cast doubt on Bolduc’s ability to significantly ramp up fundraising, should he become the nominee.
Prior to a Republican nominee emerging, Democrats had spent much of the prior year trying to boost Hassan’s image. Her campaign has already run more than $7 million in television advertisements, according to AdImpact, while the Democratic Majority Forward super PAC has already spent $9 million in the state.
Democrats after the primary immediately circulated Bolduc’s past statements supporting abortion restrictions, a sign that paid spending in the heavily pro-abortion-rights state will likely focus on the issue.
In a seven-figure statewide television ad released Wednesday morning, Hassan’s campaign slammed Bolduc as an “anti-choice Republican” who would “push” for a nationwide abortion ban, despite Bolduc saying Tuesday he believed the issue should be dealt with at the state level.
Bolduc said he would not vote in favor of the 15-week ban introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), though Hassan dismissed his recent comments, saying they were “inconsistent” with what he has said previously.
Separately, Women Vote!, the independent expenditure program associated with the abortion rights group EMILY’s List, booked a $1.3 million ad Tuesday. The spot is set to run in New Hampshire over the next week.
“Don Bolduc is the most extreme nominee for U.S. Senate that New Hampshire has seen in decades,” Hassan told reporters Wednesday.
Asked whether she hopes to see the Senate Democratic super PAC lay down reservations in the state — and whether she supported their decision to spend money in the Republican primary — Hassan said the decision wasn’t hers.
“Look, I can’t control what outside groups do,” Hassan said, adding that she would continue to build her own support in New Hampshire’s 234 cities and towns.
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said both Bolduc and Morse were “out of step” with New Hampshire, but described Bolduc as “a candidate that even Republicans were rejecting.”
“I take everything seriously,” Peters said of the race now that Bolduc is set to appear on the November ballot. “It makes me more confident we’re going to win, but we’ve got a long road ahead of us.”
Hassan confirmed she was committed to debate Bolduc, saying she has agreed to participate in debates hosted by the same organizations that moderated between Shaheen and GOP nominee Corky Messner in 2020.
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