Don Bolduc, a retired Army general and 2020 election denier, has captured the Republican nomination for Senate in New Hampshire, according to The Associated Press.
The race was called midday Wednesday, as Bolduc held a lead of more than 1,500 votes over Chuck Morse, the president of the state Senate.
Morse was endorsed by Gov. Chris Sununu and helped by $4.5 million from national Republicans, who were worried that a victory by Bolduc would forfeit what they saw as a winnable seat in the quest for Senate control this fall.
Bolduc’s victory will come as a relief to Democrats, who also assume he will be the weaker opponent against Sen. Maggie Hassan, a first-term Democrat. She won in 2016 by about 1,000 votes in purple New Hampshire but has been saddled with low job approval numbers. Four states — New Hampshire, Arizona, Georgia and Nevada — have vulnerable Democratic senators the party is aggressively defending to keep its hold on the Senate.
Delaware and Rhode Island also held primaries Tuesday — the final date of major primary elections this year, just eight weeks before the general election. In Rhode Island, Democrats chose Seth Magaziner, the state treasurer, to run for an open House seat that is viewed as a tossup in November. Delaware’s biggest race was for state auditor.
But it was New Hampshire that held the focus nationally. Besides Bolduc, Republicans in the state also chose a hard-right nominee for the House, Karoline Leavitt, a former staff member in President Donald Trump’s White House press office, who echoed the former president’s inflammatory language and provocations. She beat Matt Mowers, who had the backing of House Republican leaders, and will face Rep. Chris Pappas, a two-term Democrat.
Bolduc’s and Leavitt’s success adds New Hampshire to the list of battleground states where Republicans this year chose candidates firmly in the Trumpian mold to compete in general elections that Republicans have historically won by reaching out to independents and conservative Democrats. Other examples include Massachusetts, Maryland, Arizona and Pennsylvania (in its governor’s race).
It is both a clear sign of Trump’s iron grip on his party’s base and a major gamble on whether candidates with extreme views — principally, embracing Trump’s lie that he won in 2020 — can prevail in purple states. November will test if voter malaise about the economy and Democratic leadership in Washington is strong enough to blot out candidates’ hard-right views.
Bolduc led wire-to-wire in polling during his race. He amassed grassroots support by traveling widely for two years and holding town hall-style events, where attendees fumed over President Joe Biden and Democratic governance in Washington.
His supporters were less animated by bread-and-butter issues such as inflation — which is soon expected to affect the cost of the home heating oil that is widely used in New Hampshire — than by immigration, the 2020 election and cultural issues.
“I signed a letter with 120 other generals and admirals saying that Donald Trump won the election and, damn it, I stand by” it, Bolduc said at a debate last month.
He has also said he was open to abolishing the FBI after agents searched Trump’s residence in Florida seeking classified documents.
Sununu, a moderate and popular Republican in the state, was outspoken in calling Bolduc a “conspiracy-theory extremist” whom most voters did not take seriously.
Morse, 61, acknowledged that Biden won in 2020 and said he would have certified the election if he had been in Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.
In debates, Morse rarely turned his fire on Bolduc, instead attacking Hassan. He highlighted how he had led the Legislature to override a budget that Hassan had vetoed as governor because it included business tax cuts. Hassan’s campaign has positioned her as breaking with her party on issues of concern to New Hampshirites — pushing for a federal gasoline tax holiday, for example — and standing up to Big Pharma to lower prescription drug costs.
Other candidates in the Republican primary included Kevin Smith, a former Londonderry town manager, and Bruce Fenton, a cryptocurrency entrepreneur whose libertarianism — he favored legalizing all drugs — enlivened debates but also drew boos.
Bolduc’s poor fundraising meant he wasn’t able to run a single ad on television. A super PAC with ties to national Republicans spent millions of dollars on ads opposing him and boosting Morse.
A Democratic group also tried to shape the race: The Senate Majority PAC, which is aligned with Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, attacked Morse in ads as “sleazy” in an effort to drive voters toward Bolduc, gambling that he would be easier to defeat in November.
For the general election, super PACs tied to Republican leaders in the Senate have reserved $29 million for ads in New Hampshire, which could boost Bolduc and tarnish Hassan. But it is unclear whether those commitments will hold with Bolduc on the ballot.
Left on his own, Bolduc would enter the contest with Hassan at a severe disadvantage: He had just $84,000 in his campaign account as of late August, according to federal records. Hassan had $7.3 million. She has already spent millions on ads this year to boost her image, including one claiming that she is “ranked the most bipartisan senator,” but her approval has stalled in polls around 45%.
Still, facing Bolduc would bump Hassan, 64, down Democrats’ list of the incumbents they most need to defend to keep control of the Senate and assure that Biden is not hamstrung in the remainder of his term.
With New Hampshire’s primary elections so late in the year, Bolduc has just eight weeks before the general election to move beyond appeals to the Republican base and reach out to independents and conservative Democrats, voters who traditionally add to the coalition that Republican candidates need to win statewide in New Hampshire.
Mainstream Republicans in the state have been skeptical that Bolduc will be able to modulate his image after two years of appealing to the Trump-centric party base.
One reason he led in polls from the outset is that he had a yearlong head start over his rivals. The race was effectively frozen as Sununu, a top recruiting target of national Republicans to face Hassan, weighed joining in. It was November by the time he decided to forgo a Senate bid and seek reelection as governor.
One shoe that never dropped was an endorsement from Trump. Morse and his supporters waged a campaign to win the former president’s approval, including a visit by Morse to Trump at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Sept. 2.
Although the conversations were cordial, according to aides to both men, no endorsement ensued. After their meeting, Trump invited Morse and his team to have dinner at his club, but Trump did not join them.
On the eve of the election, Sununu — whom Bolduc once accused of being “a Chinese communist sympathizer” — suggested that if Bolduc became the nominee, he would endorse him.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.