National Republicans are rushing to boost New Hampshire Senate president Chuck Morse in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate, fearing a loss to front-runner Don Bolduc on Tuesday will imperil their chances of winning a critical seat in November.
A political action committee with ties to Senate GOP leadership is spending millions on ads attacking Mr. Bolduc’s “crazy ideas,” while Republican Gov. Chris Sununu offered Mr. Morse a late endorsement Thursday that could rally independent voters and consolidate the anti-Bolduc vote.
Mr. Morse could use the help.
He trailed Mr. Bolduc, a retired brigadier general who lost a 2020 Senate primary, by 21 points in a University of New Hampshire poll released in late August.
Mr. Bolduc has heavily touted his Army experience and signed a letter claiming that irregularities in the 2020 presidential election were ignored. His latest ads portray him as a political outsider who will fight government mandates and bring down inflation.
His primary lead has establishment Republicans worried they will squander a winnable pickup against Sen. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat viewed as vulnerable in the general election.
Already, the GOP is bemoaning the quality of candidates needed to preserve GOP seats in places like Pennsylvania and Georgia as they try to tilt the balance in a Senate chamber split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie for Democrats.
“Bolduc did gain name ID among GOP primary voters from his previous run and having campaigned for now nearly 3 years, and he did get over 40% last time, so there is a base,” said Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party and a Morse supporter. “But voters have never been exposed to negative info about him before, he has no money of his own to defend himself, and his candidate skills remain very shaky. He will be pretty easy to caricature as a too-Trumpy-for-NH candidate unprepared for the office he‘s seeking.”
Mr. Sununu disappointed Senate Republicans by passing on a Senate bid and opting to run for another term as governor.
The governor’s endorsement of Mr. Morse might not have a seismic impact but could help Mr. Morse close the gap in a primary that also includes entrepreneur Vikram Mansharamani, Bitcoin investor Bruce Fenton and former Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith.
The White Mountain PAC is spending over $4 million on ads attacking Mr. Bolduc for criticizing Mr. Trump’s team after his 2020 primary loss and tying him to Mr. Biden’s chaotic military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“The pro-Morse ads, the Sununu endorsement, and Kevin Smith’s failure to become a player in this race — a surprise — means all the non-Bolduc vote could/should consolidate to Morse,” said Mr. Cullen, who thinks the state Senate president can “pull this out.”
Likewise, the Morse campaign insists it can overtake Mr. Bolduc in the “poll that matters” on Tuesday.
“The gap is not that big,” Morse campaign spokesman Joe Sweeney said.
He said the Bolduc campaign doesn’t have the resources or organization to pull off a win against the Democratic incumbent, especially with the quick turnaround to the general race after a relatively late primary.
“We have an operation, a field team, a full campaign staff and organization, multiple chairs in every county,” Mr. Sweeney said. “There’s not going to be any delay in us taking the fight right to Maggie Hassan.”
Mr. Bolduc is leaning into his role as an outsider, saying New Hampshire voters aren’t interested in electing another career politician amid post-pandemic shocks and inflation.
“The very people who caused all our problems are now standing in front of us asking for a vote. They’re asking us to elect them or reelect them. Hell no, we need to hold them accountable. Vote for a fighter. Vote for an outsider. Vote General Don Bolduc for U.S. Senate,” the latest Bolduc ad says over scenes of empty shelves, rising gas-pump prices and images of Ms. Hassan and President Biden.
One wild card is former President Donald Trump, who loves to play kingmaker but hasn’t made an endorsement in this primary. He may remain on the sidelines, though he praised Mr. Bolduc as a “strong guy, tough guy,” in a recent interview with conservative host John Fredericks, who supports Mr. Bolduc.
“I think he‘s doing very well, too. I hear he‘s up, he‘s up quite a bit,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Fredericks. “You’re involved in that race, it’s very interesting, and you’re for Bolduc. So, I’m going to remember that.”
Mr. Sununu has reportedly spoken to Mr. Trump about the race, too, suggesting there is lobbying for Mr. Morse.
The latest ads from groups aligned with Senate leadership hit Mr. Sununu for his gripes about Mr. Trump’s operation two years ago and for dubbing Mr. Sununu a “Chinese Communist sympathizer.”
“Don Bolduc’s crazy ideas won’t help us defeat Maggie Hassan,” the latest White Mountain PAC ad says.
The Hassan campaign is relishing the primary dogfight on the other side.
Following a Thursday night debate among GOP contenders, the Hassan team said Mr. Morse is too extreme in restricting abortion — an issue that Democrats are highlighting after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — and that Mr. Bolduc would be open to abolishing the FBI.
“There was one clear winner in the debate tonight, and it was Senator Maggie Hassan. The two leading frontrunners showed just how out of touch they are,” Hassan campaign spokesman Kevin Donohue said. “This primary has been a brutal battle between the establishment and outsider candidates, with everyone running to the right. After spending months attacking each other and pushing extreme policy positions, whoever emerges from this mess is already badly damaged.”
The Cook Political Report rates the general New Hampshire race as “lean Democrat,” meaning it expects Ms. Hassan to edge out her opponent at this stage.
Mr. Cullen, who is a Dover city councilor, said Ms. Hassan has been “invisible” at the community level and deserves to be defeated.
“She has done nothing to distinguish herself. She is a shadow of Jeanne Shaheen,” said Mr. Cullen, referring to New Hampshire’s other Democratic senator. “She‘s just a vote in the Dem caucus.”