Don Bolduc works to unify GOP voters in Senate race

  • Don Bolduc, Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, extends a greeting while meeting with supporters and attendees of a multicandidate town hall at Tempesta's Restaurant on Tuesday in Keene. Bonnie Jo Mount/ Washington Post photo

For the Monitor
Published: 10/8/2022 7:11:04 PM
Modified: 10/8/2022 7:10:53 PM

Don Bolduc says when it comes to Republican unity after a very combustible primary, “it’s all coming together.”

Three and a half weeks after Bolduc captured the GOP Senate nomination in New Hampshire, the former Army brigadier general, who’s making his second straight bid for the U.S. Senate, says his campaign’s showcasing “a message of unity.”

Bolduc’s challenging former governor and first-term Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in a race that’s one of a handful across the country that will likely determine if the GOP wins back the chamber’s majority in November’s midterm elections.

Bolduc, who ran in the primary as a populist MAGA Republican-style outsider, narrowly defeated longtime state Senate President Chuck Morse, a more mainstream conservative candidate who enjoyed the support of popular Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, in a crowded field of Republican contenders.

“It was a pretty rough primary. Now we just got to get the team moving in the right direction,” Bolduc recently told this reporter during a campaign stop in Londonderry.

While Hassan enjoys near universal support among Granite State Democrats, polls indicate Bolduc still has some work to do to unify Republicans.

According to a Saint Anselm College Survey Center poll conducted Sept. 27-28 and released earlier last week, Bolduc won the backing of 84% of self-described Republicans, while Hassan was supported by 93% of Democrats. Bolduc’s backing by GOP voters was basically unchanged from a University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll conducted in the days following the Sept. 13 primary.

But with a chance to knock off Hassan and retake the Senate majority, Republicans seem to be slowly embracing Bolduc.

“All eyes are on New Hampshire, right? Because the majority goes through New Hampshire,” Bolduc has said repeatedly on the campaign trail the past couple of weeks.

Veteran New Hampshire-based national Republican consultant Dave Carney, who advised the Morse campaign during the primary, told the Monitor that “I think the vast majority of the party – the operatives, activists, county committees, town committee members, Republican primary voters – are united in defeating Hassan.”

Carney emphasized that “this is a winnable race” and argued that “Hassan is weak tea.”

Longtime state Senate majority leader Jeb Bradley, a close Morse ally, told the Monitor that “Sen. Morse was very gracious in defeat. Embraced Gen. Bolduc right away. Gen. Bolduc was magnanimous in victory. I don’t get the sense that there’s significant division among Republicans.”

And he said he thought the divisive Senate primary “was put to bed and I think people are behind Bolduc.”

Bolduc made a high-profile gesture of unity at the New Hampshire GOP’s unity breakfast two days after the primary. After stressing at the end of his speech that “we do not win without this team coming together,” Bolduc then stepped down from the podium and approached Sununu, who was next in line to speak, and embraced the governor, who remains the most popular politician among Granite State Republicans.

The hug by Bolduc appeared to be an attempt to erase a recent history of bad blood and a war of words between the two men, who now share the top of the GOP ticket on November’s ballot in New Hampshire.

Asked if the governor will team up with Bolduc in the final stretch leading up to the election, Sununu spokesman Benjamin Vihstadt said “the governor supports the Republican ticket and expects their paths will continue to cross events while out on the campaign trail.”

Bolduc wasn’t the first choice for national Republicans. A group with links to longtime Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell spent seven-figures in the primary campaign supporting Morse.

But the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund, which is the top super PAC that supports Senate Republican incumbents and candidates, says it’s still planning on spending the $23 million it allocated to defeat Hassan in New Hampshire. The group had announced their $23 million ad reservation ahead of the primary, before knowing which candidate would win the GOP nomination. 

“GOP voters are motivated to win. They have heard repeatedly that the Senate is in play and a win in New Hampshire improves their chances to control that body. So, it’s not surprising that differences among members of the party are set aside for that common goal of defeating Sen. Hassan,” veteran New Hampshire based political scientist Wayne Lesperance said.

Lesperance, the interim president of Henniker-based New England College, noted that “at the end of the day, whatever their differences may be, they share the desire to turn that Senate seat red.”

With polls indicating the Senate race in New Hampshire remains close – Hassan was ahead of Bolduc by six points according to Saint Anselm College Survey Center – the bigger question remains whether Bolduc can win the crucial votes of Granite State independents.

Pointing to his past stance on abortion, his previous comments in support of former President Donald Trump’s unproven claims the 2020 election was “rigged” and “stolen” and his views on COVID vaccines and on making changes to Medicare and Social Security, the Hassan campaign and the New Hampshire Democratic Party argue that Bolduc is too extreme for mainstream Granite Staters.

“Don Bolduc is the most extreme US Senate nominee in my lifetime, and he could not be more out of step with New Hampshire. Bolduc would be a yes vote to ban abortion nationwide, he wants to end Social Security and Medicare as we know it and he continues to lie about his record of pushing election fraud conspiracy theories,” state Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley charged.

But amid a political climate fueled by record inflation that favors Republicans, Lesperance said that Bolduc still has a chance to win over independent voters.

“Poll after poll reveals that what voters care most about are economic issues. What’s more, voters continue to blame both President Biden and the Democrats in Congress for economic challenges in their everyday life,” Lesperance said. “As a result, there is an opportunity for Gen. Bolduc to win over independents especially as he moderates his stances for the general election. He certainly benefits from the short memories of most voters who have not paid close attention through the primary process.”

Hassan campaign:Attack ad on crime‘desperate smear’

Amid a post Labor Day push by Republicans across the country to target Democratic candidates over the issue of crime, last week in the column we spotlighted a new TV ad by Hassan that showcased her record of support for law enforcement.

While Republicans often charge that Democrats support efforts to defund the police, Merrimack County Sheriff David Croft said in the senator’s campaign commercial that “Hassan’s done the opposite of defunding the police. In every budget as governor, Hassan increased funding for police, and it’s no different with Maggie in the Senate.” And Grafton County sheriff Jeff Stiegler highlighted that the senator has “voted with Republicans to add a 100,000 new police officers.”

Fast forward a week and the pro-GOP Senate Leadership Fund started running on New Hampshire TV a new spot suggesting Hassan supported defunding the police and had voted for legislation to give early release to sex offenders.

Responding, the Hassan campaign charged the ad was full of inaccuracies and falsehoods.

“This ad is a desperate smear that completely misleads about Senator Hassan’s long record of standing with law enforcement, supporting public safety, fighting for the victims of sexual violence, and holding sex offenders accountable,” Hassan campaign spokesperson Sydney Petersen said.

Separately, on Thursday the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire – which represents more than 2,000 members from 41 fire and emergency medical service departments in the Granite State – endorsed Hassan’s re-election.

Poll position

Democratic U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster is leading Republican challenger Robert Burns 49%-35% in the race for New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District.

Kuster, who hails from Hopkinton, is running for a sixth two-year term representing the district, which covers the western half of the state from the Massachusetts border north and includes Concord and surrounding towns as well as the North Country.

Burns, a former Hillsborough Country treasurer who unsuccessfully ran for the 2018 GOP congressional nomination in the Second District, narrowly edged Keene Mayor George Hansel in last month’s primary, with former Libertarian Lily Tang Williams close behind in third place. Burns spotlighted his strong support for former President Donald Trump and ran as a MAGA Republican during the primary.

Last month’s poll from the University of New Hampshire indicated a much closer contest, with Kuster edging Burns 48%-45%.

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