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In final primaries, heated GOP fights in N.H. include a blow to McCarthy

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 9/13/2022 Colby Itkowitz, David Weigel
Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives Karoline Leavitt greets audience members during a Get Out the Vote Rally with U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in Londonderry, New Hampshire, U.S., September 8, 2022. (Brian Snyder/Reuters) © Brian Snyder/Reuters Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives Karoline Leavitt greets audience members during a Get Out the Vote Rally with U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in Londonderry, New Hampshire, U.S., September 8, 2022. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The 2022 primaries concluded Tuesday on a familiar note — with voters in Republican races choosing between far-right, election-denying candidates and more moderate rivals, and party leaders divided in contests factoring into the battle for control of Congress.

The result in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District was a blow to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). There, Karoline Leavitt, an ex-member of the Trump White House press team who ran as an “America First” insurgent running against the Washington establishment, defeated Matt Mowers, a former Trump aide backed by McCarthy, according to the Associated Press.

Leavitt, who has emphasized her false claim that the 2020 presidential election was rigged, will face Rep. Chris Pappas (D) in a race seen as a key battlefront in the fight for control of the House. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the House Republican Conference chair, supported Leavitt, her former staffer. At 25, Leavitt would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress if she wins in the fall.

New Hampshire was one of three states where voters went to the polls on Tuesday, marking the end of this year’s nominating process, along with Rhode Island and Delaware. The primaries allowed voters a final chance to choose party standard-bearers after months of fierce intraparty battles that highlighted divisions on both sides over policy, personality and ideology, among other things.

New Hampshire Republican U.S. Senate candidate Don Bolduc chats with supporters during a primary night campaign gathering, Tuesday Sept. 13, 2022, in Hampton, N.H. (Reba Saldanha/AP Photo) © Reba Saldanha/AP New Hampshire Republican U.S. Senate candidate Don Bolduc chats with supporters during a primary night campaign gathering, Tuesday Sept. 13, 2022, in Hampton, N.H. (Reba Saldanha/AP Photo)

The races in the Granite State captured the interest of national strategists in both parties, given how they could shape the fight for control of both chambers of Congress in November. The Republican primary for U.S. Senate pit retired U.S. Army brigadier general Don Bolduc against state Senate President Chuck Morse.

With just over 60 percent of the vote tallied early Wednesday, Bolduc led Morse by about three and a half percentage points. The primary was too early to call, according to the Associated Press. Another closely watched House primary was also too early to call.

Bolduc, who led the GOP field in some pre-primary polling, has echoed Donald Trump’s false claims that the former president won the 2020 election. He has voiced openness to abolishing the FBI, accused party leaders of “rigging” a 2020 primary that he narrowly lost and has been highly critical of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

Morse won the backing of Sununu, a relative moderate in the party who rejected efforts by Senate GOP leaders to recruit him to run against Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.). A group with ties to Senate Republican leaders has run ads on Morse’s behalf, and Morse has defended the validity of the 2020 election in New Hampshire, even as he did not oppose GOP challenges to results in a pair of other states.

Republican candidate for Senate and former acting governor Chuck Morse, center, during a visit to the Plant Store during a tour of small businesses in Derry, N.H., with State Sen. Regina Birdsell. (Josh Reynolds for The Washington Post) © Josh Reynolds/for The Washington Post Republican candidate for Senate and former acting governor Chuck Morse, center, during a visit to the Plant Store during a tour of small businesses in Derry, N.H., with State Sen. Regina Birdsell. (Josh Reynolds for The Washington Post)

Through mid-August, Republican candidates who claimed inaccurately that the 2020 election results were fraudulent had prevailed in more than half of the races they have run in this year, according to a Washington Post analysis of hundreds of federal and state primaries. That record reflects in part the continued influence in the GOP of Trump, who continues to falsely assert in public comments that the election was stolen from him.

Trump did not make an endorsement in the New Hampshire Senate primary or in either of the state’s House primaries, a noticeable absence after weighing in on scores of other intraparty contests this year.

Hassan easily won renomination Tuesday, according to the AP. In the governor’s race, Sununu won renomination and will face Democrat Tom Sherman in November. Sununu begins as a heavy favorite in the gubernatorial race.

Sununu, whose family is an institution in New Hampshire politics, has called Bolduc a “conspiracy theorist.” Still, at a weekend stop at a seafood festival here, he said that he would support Bolduc or any other Republican who won the nomination. On Monday, Sununu predicted a close GOP race, but he said he believed Morse would win.

For a time, national Republicans viewed the path to winning back control of the Senate as potentially running heavily through New Hampshire. When Sununu opted instead to seek reelection, local and national Republicans coalesced around Morse as the strongest alternative to Bolduc — who has embraced the fight against the party establishment.

“It’s just noise. I’ve combated that for two years,” said Bolduc in an interview after a Saturday town hall in Laconia.

National Democrats had signaled a belief that Hassan would have an easier time holding her seat in November against Bolduc, and they spent millions attacking Morse in recent weeks — a strategy of interference they have employed in GOP primaries around the country.

While New Hampshire has leaned Democratic in the past few presidential elections, Republicans believed it was within reach in a midterm year that looked dire for Democrats. While Democrats are at risk of losing the Senate, public polling indicates they are faring better than expected in many of the tightest races in the country.

The Democratic incumbents in the state’s two U.S. House seats are also facing challenging reelections in November, according to nonpartisan analysts, heightening the stakes of the Republican primaries in both contests.

The 1st Congressional District primary was a heated competition that exposed some differences between the candidates. When it came to the 2020 election, Mowers had said there were “irregularities” in the count, but he had stopped short of Leavitt’s false claim about the vote.

“The establishment is so afraid that I’m going to beat their handpicked puppet on Tuesday,” Leavitt told supporters at a Thursday night rally with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). “And you know what? I wear those attacks as a badge of honor, because they know that I am the greatest threat for beating their handpicked puppet.”

Also on the ballot was Gail Huff Brown, a former TV news anchor and the wife of Scott Brown, a former Republican senator from Massachusetts. Her TV ads emphasize her support for “choice” and New Hampshire’s new law on abortion that left the procedure legal in the state, but added some restrictions.

A similar dynamic played out in the 2nd Congressional District, where Keene Mayor George Hansel (R), who favors abortion rights and was also endorsed by Sununu, faced Robert Burns, a former Hillsborough County treasurer who ran to his right and opposes abortion rights. As in the Senate race, Democrats spent money highlighting Burns, who they see as easier to defeat in the fall than Hansel. Democratic Rep. Ann Kuster is the incumbent seeking reelection.

While Burns has acknowledged that Biden won in 2020, he has claimed that “a ton” of other unspecified elections were “stolen” in 2020. Hansel has recognized Biden’s win.

With about 59 percent of the vote tallied early Wednesday, Burns led Hansel by under two percentage points, and the Associated Press had not declared a winner.

A political organization that did not disclose its donors backed Hansel, but Burns told Politico that he blamed the ad spending on McCarthy, calling him “dead to me.”

In Rhode Island on Tuesday, Democrats navigated some high-stakes contested primaries of their own, including one for governor. Gov. Dan McKee (D), who replaced Gina Raimondo after she was appointed to Biden’s Cabinet to lead the Commerce Department, defeated business executive Helena Foulkes in a competitive race.

McKee had been dogged by a scandal over a $5 million contract awarded to a political adviser’s consulting firm, which became the subject of an FBI probe. Foulkes received a late assist from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who came to the state to campaign for her Sunday.

“If I didn’t think that she could win this, I would have never encouraged her to put herself in the arena,” Pelosi told voters in Providence. “She is about getting the job done.”

An open seat in Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin is seen as one of Republicans’ most promising chances to flip a seat in their endeavor to win back the House majority. There, state Treasurer Seth Magaziner was the winner of the Democratic primary, according to the Associated Press, prevailing over former state congressman David Segal, who ran on a more liberal platform, and former Commerce Department lawyer Sarah Morgenthau.

Republican Allan Fung, who carried the district in two failed runs for governor, won his party’s nomination in an uncontested primary. President Biden carried the district by 14 points in 2020, giving Democrats hope of retaining the seat in November.

Matt Brown, who finished well behind in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, and running mate Cynthia Mendes, a state senator, got a late endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who did not campaign in the state. Both Democrats were part of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, a liberal project to replace the state’s more conservative leadership and pass an agenda that includes a $19 minimum wage and universal health care.

In Delaware, Democratic State Auditor Kathy McGuiness lost in the primary to challenger Lydia York in the first race since McGuiness was convicted on corruption charges. York, who was endorsed by local Democrats, would be the second Black woman to hold statewide office in Delaware, after Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.).

Biden returned home to vote Tuesday, but he did not tell reporters whom he cast his ballot for in the primaries.

Weigel reported from New Hampshire.

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