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Three things to consider as N.H.'s campaign season officially kicks off

Republican Kevin Smith of Londonderry filed for the U.S. Senate race June 8, 2022.
Dan Tuohy / NHPR
Republican Kevin Smith of Londonderry filed for the U.S. Senate race June 8, 2022.

Politicians up and down the ballot in New Hampshire this year formalized their candidacies over the past 10 days.

History and polls forecast a rising political tide for Republicans, and, in New Hampshire, plenty of GOP challengers signed up over the past two weeks to face Democratic incumbents, including Sen. Maggie Hassan, and U.S. Reps. Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster.

At the same time, Gov. Chris Sununu, the most successful New Hampshire Republican in a generation, also drew challengers from within his own party as he seeks a rare fourth term.

Here are three things to look for as these races shake out in the coming months:

Republicans on the ballot will run the gamut

While the crowded federal races feature a few Republicans with long political resumes, many of those vying to take on Hassan are rank political outsiders. The messaging on display, while largely conservative, varies widely.

In the Senate race alone, you have Kevin Smith, a former Londonderry town manager and former gubernatorial candidate with bona fides in social conservative activism; New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse, a low-key fixture in Concord best known as a state budget expert; Bitcoin investor Bruce Fenton, who says Ron Paul led him to into politics; Vikram Mansharamani, an academic lecturer and investor who promises to bring “business principles” to Washington; and former Brigadier General Don Bolduc, who never really stopped running for the Senate after he lost in the GOP primary two years ago. Bolduc, spurned by many party insiders in that earlier race, is drawing grassroots support wherever he can find it, including from anti-vaccine activists mobilized by COVID-19 conspiracy theories.

While there is some overlap in ideology and message across these five candidates, they offer a wide range of potential Republican talking points: from cryptocurrency libertarianism, to Trump-inspired nativism, to old-fashioned fiscal conservatism.

The congressional primaries also feature competitive contests featuring a wide array of political styles. In the 1st District, which includes the lion’s share of the state’s GOP voters, Trumpism – in varying forms – is very much on the ballot.

Matt Mowers, who worked in the Trump Administration State Department, won his party’s nomination two years ago with a boost from Trump. Karoline Leavitt and Gail Huff Brown, meanwhile, have their own Trump ties: Leavitt was a Trump press aide, while Huff Brown’s husband, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, was Trump’s ambassador to New Zealand.

In the 2nd District primary, the contrast between Trump-style politics and a less hard-line, traditional Republicanism will be on display.

Bob Burns, a former Hillsborough County treasurer, is the hard liner. Pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Trump: he ticks every box. Keene Mayor George Hansel, meanwhile, is a pro-choice Republican endorsed by Sununu. If Hansel, who has twice won election in Democrat-dominated Keene, can get past Burns, he would be a different, and potentially challenging opponent for the incumbent Kuster, who hasn’t run against a candidate who could lay claim to being a moderate since she beat then-Congressman Charlie Bass in 2012.

Immigration policy already a focus in federal races

Maggie Hassan’strip to the US-Mexico border, and the social media video she shot while there, was an early indication that immigration could be a big issue in this year’s New Hampshire Senate race.

In the video, Hassan called for the Biden Administration to back “closing gaps in the barrier” and supported denying migrants consideration for asylum on public health grounds, That caused some in her party, including members of the state Democratic Party’s Latino Caucus, to accuse her of supporting racist policies.

But Hassan hasn’t backed away from her stance, nor has Rep. Chris Pappas, who also riled activists with his support for the same policy, known as Title 42.

Republicans meanwhile, are stressing the need for vigilance on the border, talking up lawlessness and drugs.

“People are upset about the number of illegal migrants that are unaccounted for in the country, but they are upset too by the number of drugs that are flowing across the border,” Kevin Smith said this week while filing his campaign paperwork.

Smith, back in February, became the first of multiple local Republican candidates to have made the 2,000-plus mile trip to the southern border.

The campaign of Morse, the current New Hampshire Senate president, went so far as to tweet a picture of him standing by a boat-mounted machine gun manned by a Texas state trooper patrolling the Rio Grande River.

It felt a very long way from Freshwater Farms, the nursery and garden business Morse runs in Atkinson. But it shows that Republicans feel they have to adopt a staunch approach when it comes to immigration policy.

Could experienced Democrats buck political headwinds?  

By any measure, 2022 is looking like a tough year for Democrats – in New Hampshire and nationally. But the party’s candidates in federal races – Hassan, Pappas and Kuster – have more experience winning tough elections than the Republicans they’ll face. They will also have ample money to compete.

But one Democrat at the top of the ballot lacks the campaign experience that Hassan, Kuster and Pappas possess. State Sen Tom Sheman, a doctor from Rye, is also the candidate facing the toughest task, defeating Sununu.

When he filed to run this week, Sherman said it was the proudest day of his life, save for his wedding day. A positive attitude is helpful for any candidate. For a Democrat in Sherman’s position, so too will be developing an ability to convince national Democratic donors that he’s worth spending money on in his bid to unseat Sununu, one of the most popular governors in the country.

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