On the trail: Can Hassan ride abortion to re-election victory?

  • U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan speaks in front of the Equality Health Center in downtown Concord on Wednesday, August 31, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Sen. Maggie Hassan speaks in front of Equality Health Center in Concord on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

For the Monitor
Published: 9/1/2022 4:52:42 PM

Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan says the combustible issue of abortion has galvanized New Hampshire voters.

The former governor and first-term senator who’s running this November for re-election says the June opinion by the conservative majority of the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling and throw the battle over legalized abortion back to the states has “scared” men and women across the state.

“Absolutely this is top of mind for all my constituents,” Hassan said this week at a campaign event at Concord’s Equality Health Center, one of the state’s three abortion providers.

Poll after poll in New Hampshire and across the country has indicated a surge in importance around the issue of abortion in the wake of the high court’s monumental ruling. Democrats face historical headwinds – the party that wins the White House traditionally suffers setbacks in the ensuing midterm elections – and a negative political climate fueled by record inflation and exacerbated by President Joe Biden’s underwater approval ratings. But Democrats see the renewed emphasis on abortion as a ticket to victory by energizing their party’s base and helping them connect again with key swing female and suburban voters.

Hassan said she is focused on defeating a national abortion ban backed by some Republicans and stressed that “you can’t have a free, and fair and vibrant and thriving democracy when half of the population are second class citizens.”

Republicans view Hassan – due to her underwhelming poll numbers – as vulnerable and have repeatedly targeted her this cycle as they aim to flip the Senate seat in the general election battleground state from blue to red.

Hassan teamed up at her event with Laphonza Butler, the head of Emily’s List, an influential national group that works to elect female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights. The group has spent money this summer to run ads praising Hassan for pushing “for a federal law to protect a woman’s right to make her own personal decisions.” Hassan was quick to spotlight the issue in the days after the Supreme Court ruling, launching a TV commercial where she vowed that she’ll “fight and never back down” to protect legalized abortion.

With less than two weeks to go until New Hampshire’s Sept. 13 primary, Hassan used the gathering in Concord to blast her Republican challengers, arguing that the GOP candidates “have been competing to see who can be the most anti-choice.”

“For years, there was a bipartisan history of defending reproductive rights in our state. This health center opened up just down the street from our State House. But the Republicans running against me would ignore the will of the majority of Granite Staters,” Hassan said.

Republicans have criticized Hassan on abortion, characterizing her as an “extremist” who supports unlimited “abortion on demand,” due to her backing of the “Women’s Health Protection Act.”

And some in the GOP view Hassan’s liberal stance as a weapon that can be used against the senator in November.

“Hassan continually sides with the radical abortion lobby over the clear will of her constituents. Her extremism is a political liability and we are committed to exposing it,” Susan B. Anthony (SBA) Pro-Life America president Marjorie Dannenfelser charged in a statement.

Poll position and ad wars

A new public opinion survey released this week is the second straight to indicate that retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc remains the front-runner in Republican Senate nomination race, which is the last of the competitive and high-profile GOP Senate primaries across the country this election cycle. The primary winner will face off with Hassan in a general election showdown that’s one of a handful that could determine if Republicans win back the Senate majority.

Bolduc stands at 43% support among likely Republican primary voters questioned in a Granite State Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center that was released on Tuesday, with small business owner and longtime New Hampshire state Senate President Chuck Morse at 22%.

According to the survey, which was conducted Aug. 25-29, cryptocurrency entrepreneur Bruce Fenton and businessman, economist and author Vikram Mansharamani are at 5% support, with former Londonderry town manager Kevin Smith at 3%. One in five surveyed remained unsure or undecided in the Senate primary showdown.

The new poll is the second – following a recent one from the St. Anselm College Survey Center – to indicate Bolduc, who’s making a second straight bid for the Senate, with a double-digit lead over Morse, with everyone else in single digits.

Bolduc, who launched his current campaign just days after the 2020 election and has been running for the Senate most of the past three years, appears to be boosted by name identification in a primary battle where none of the other major candidates are well known outside the narrow New Hampshire political activist class.

“Name recognition builds on itself. There becomes a sense of inevitability if your name is the one that most people recognize, and they equate you with the nomination,” UNH Survey Center Director Andrew Smith said. “It’s up to the other candidates to show and tell who they are in order to combat what Bolduc has been able to do over the past three years and so far none of the other candidates have been able to break through,”

After keeping his distance and failing to land then-President Donald Trump’s endorsement in the 2020 cycle during his unsuccessful bid for the nomination, Bolduc has become a strong supporter of Trump’s unproven claims that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged” and “stolen.” Bolduc, who served 10 tours of duty in the war in Afghanistan, was part of a group of retired generals who signed a letter questioning the legitimacy of the election due to what they charged was “a tremendous amount of fraud.”

While Trump has remained neutral in the primary battle, former Trump White House chief strategist and former media executive Steve Bannon has heavily promoted Bolduc on his radio program. But longtime New Hampshire resident and veteran Trump political adviser Corey Lewandowski, who managed Trump’s 2016 presidential primary campaign, has heavily criticized Bolduc.

The poll indicates that among those who remain undecided, 41% said a Trump endorsement would make them more likely to back that candidate. But 36% said they’d be less likely to support a candidate endorsed by Trump.

While Bolduc has given New Hampshire conservatives plenty of red meat, there are concerns from some GOP political operatives that a primary victory by the retired general will allow Hassan to win re-election.

On Wednesday, a newly formed super PAC named the White Mountain PAC launched an ad in support of Morse, who some Republicans view as more electable than Bolduc. AdImpact, a nationally recognized ad tracking firm, reports that the new group is spending $2.6 million to purchase TV airtime to run commercials through the Sept. 13 primary.

Meanwhile, a pro-Democratic group is meddling in the GOP primary in New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District, in the race to face off in November against five-term Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster of Hopkinton.

The PAC, Democrats Serve, is spending nearly $100,000 to run cable TV ads to boost the conservative credentials of Republican candidate Bob Burns, a former Hillsborough County treasurer who unsuccessfully ran for the GOP congressional nomination in 2018. Burns has touted his pro-Trump and anti-abortion stances during his second bid for Congress and some Democrats view him as a weaker general election candidate against Kuster than his main rival for the nomination, moderate Republican Keene Mayor George Hansel, who enjoys the backing of Gov. Chris Sununu.

The new poll from UNH indicates Burns at 32% support among likely Republican primary voters in the Second District, with Hansel at 18% and Lily Tang Williams at 10%.

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