Republicans see a new opportunity to take the New Hampshire Senate seat from Democrats

Republicans see a new opportunity to take the New Hampshire Senate seat from Democrats

Republicans are refocusing on the New Hampshire Senate race with just two weeks until the November midterms, as recent polls show Sen. Maggie Hassan’s (D) lead over Republican Don Bolduc shrinking.

The New Hampshire Senate seat was seen as one of the Republicans’ best midterm pickup opportunities. But the primary victory of Bolduc, a retired Army general who aligned himself with former President Trump, coupled with his weak fundraising and significant deficit in the polls, pushed the race out of the spotlight.

Earlier this month, both the Senate Republican campaign arm and a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) cut their spending in the race to shift resources to other states, including Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia.

But recent polls showing the two candidates within margin of error combined with a favorable political environment for Republicans encouraged the National Senatorial Campaign Committee (NRSC) to rededicate resources to the race earlier this week.

Still, Republicans acknowledge that Bolduc’s victory will hinge heavily on key issues like inflation and rising heat and gas prices — and on national sentiment.

“He’s within reach. The environment helps him cope even though he practically has no money of his own. We’ll have to see,” one national GOP operative told The Hill. “Hasan is a very weak carrier. … It’s a race where, if the environment breaks down well for Republicans, it could put a Republican over the top. If they are going to win, it will be on the strength of the environment.”

Another GOP operative added that the race would be “close” but warned that it would “take a rising tide to get him over the finish line.”

The NRSC’s decision earlier this week to co-launch a seven-figure TV ad campaign and a recent poll gave Bolduc’s campaign reason to feel bullish.

“It’s a race without any problems. It’s been that way for a while. … The momentum is on our side. It was on our side,” said Rick Wiley, a senior adviser to the Bolduc campaign. “The secret weapon is Don Bolduc. He surpasses and surpasses her. Why would you underestimate a general on the battlefield? … He just had to be given a chance.”

Wiley compared the final stretch of this race to the 2014 victory of Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), which he worked on while at the NRSC. He also stated that the turning point in the race is the negotiations over the number of debates in which the two candidates will participate.

“Republicans rarely win debates. We won the debate about the debates,” Wiley said. “This debate about debates is more of a debate about a career politician who doesn’t think she has to talk to voters and thinks she’s entitled to a seat and doesn’t have to earn money. And Don Bolduc goes out and makes money.”

But some Democrats are skeptical that last-minute funding in the state will make a difference in the race.

“I don’t think it’s a huge investment, and I don’t think it’s going to be enough to move the needle,” said Scott Merrick, a senior adviser to Biden’s 2020 campaign in New Hampshire.

“And then you look… why are they actually investing so much money? And to go back to my earlier point, I think it’s because the initial message they sent to the New Hampshire Republicans when they first pulled that money was not a message of confidence in the Bolduc campaign, and I think they’re trying to right that ship from an exchange perspective message,” he continued. “But from a practical point of view, I don’t think so [a] a small seven-figure purchase in the last two weeks will get the job done.”

And while Gov. Chris Sununu (R) is at the top of the ticket this cycle and is considered the state’s popular Republican, Democrats doubt he’ll have any hair for Bolduc.

During the primary, Sununu called Bolduc a “frivolous candidate” and “some kind of conspiracy theorist type candidate” before promoting him in the general election.

“You can turn around and hug him and support him and Sununu can do whatever he wants and flirt with Bolduc, but he’s already told the voters of New Hampshire what he thinks of the guy, and I don’t know that you can take that back,” Harrell said. Kirstein, who served as the 2020 campaign manager for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.).

However, the race for the senator is not a fluke either. Although Hassan was a household name in the state when she ran for Senate in 2016 — she served as governor from 2013 to 2017 — she won her first senatorial term by about a tenth of a percentage point. Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won the state in 2016 by three-tenths of a percentage point, while President Biden won the state by 7 points two years ago.

However, Hassan has a big spending advantage in recent weeks. The incumbent Democrat raised $9.6 million in the third quarter of fundraising and had $4.8 million in the bank at the end of September. Bolduc only cashed in $972,000 and had $768,000 in the bank just after his championship win. Still, some Republicans believe it can be overcome.

“There is literally no runway for a candidate to fight people on the fundraising front with the incumbent running for six years. Bolduc is trying to make up for it with an aggressive person-to-person, city-by-city campaign,” said Jeff Grappone, who was a top aide to former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (RN.H.). “He showed he could win a primary while he was exhausted.”

Republicans also believe they have an opening because they see Hassan as a relatively weak incumbent who has been buoyed by a number of factors over the past year, including the state’s late primaries that leave just eight weeks between then and Election Day and the lack of a top contender for the general election.

“When [Shaheen] runs, there are tangible signs of excitement. Hassan is not present,” said Dave Carney, a New Hampshire GOP operative.

Granite Staters are also struggling with persistently high inflation and bracing for high energy costs. US Energy Information Administration This month’s winter fuel outlook report predicts natural gas prices to be 28 percent higher than last winter with fuel oil costs expected to increase by 27 percent.

That’s especially problematic given that the New Hampshire Department of Energy says that over the past five years, the state is at 60 percent of its average heating fuel reserve level, according to the New Hampshire Bulletin.

“Make no mistake: This is a very close race and national Republicans have made it clear they are willing to spend big to elect Don Bolduc — the most extreme Senate candidate in modern New Hampshire history,” Hassan spokesman Kevin Donohoe said in a statement. “We will continue to be clear about the contrast between Sen. Hassan’s record of getting results and the fact that Don Bolduc would have been in favor of a nationwide abortion ban, voted to repeal Social Security and overturn our election.”

Still, Republicans see an opening — one that just weeks ago was thought highly unlikely.

“This was a state written off by the GOP apparatus,” said one Republican operative familiar with New Hampshire. “Bolduc keeps his head down and works hard. … The way he’s running his campaign is consistent with how voters on both sides of the aisle expect candidates to run their campaigns — retail politics and town halls.”

“Any New Hampshire candidate who runs and wins in a presidential year should know that they will have to face an electorate in what could be a volatile year. … The pendulum is swinging hard. it swings fast,” the operative continued. “She now has to carry Joe Biden’s baggage and all his warts into a tough re-election.”

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