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A cross-section of Republican ideology on offer in N.H.'s 2nd Congressional District primary

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(Left to right) George Hansel, Lily Tang Williams, and Robert Burns are Republicans running to challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Annie Kuster this fall.

For the past decade, New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District has been represented by Democrat Annie Kuster. If 2022 is as good a year for Republicans as they hope, the GOP could reclaim that seat. But for Republican primary voters -- both core activists and any independents who choose to take a Republican ballot --- selecting a nominee comes first.

Three Republicans -- Robert Burns, George Hansel and Lily Tang Williams -- are now courting primary voters in the 2nd District. Here’s a look at where the race stands, and what’s at stake

Burns: A known entity to GOP activists 

Burns, 44, now leads a family business that manufactures and sells machines that test pharmaceuticals. Burns is definitely a known entity to plenty of GOP activists in the state. He ran for this same seat in 2018, and twice for Executive Council. He also served a term as Hillsborough County treasurer.

Burns is a conservative who was involved in the presidential campaigns of Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Donald Trump. In fact, Burns was a very early local backer of Trump in 2016 and he’s running as a Trump-style candidate in 2022, as his campaign ads make clear.

Burns is also talking up economic issues -- supply chain concerns and inflation -- as well as things like Critical Race Theory and getting rid of federal mandates of all kinds. In essence, Burns is going all out to court primary voters on the issues they prioritize, in the language they use. For Burns, who has spent his whole adult life as a conservative activist, this is his native tongue.

Hansel: A “solutions oriented” moderate backed by Sununu

Hansel is a Republican of the sort you don’t see much these days: a Chamber of Commerce-type focused on government operations and service delivery.

Hansel is 36; his family has owned a company that makes drinking fountains and water purification systems for more than 100 years. He’s also been mayor of Keene for two terms. Hansel was endorsed by Gov. Chris Sununu in this race as soon as he announced.

He identifies as pro-choice, and is predisposed to avoid partisan talk.

 “I’m not interested in partisan ideas that are just trying to push an agenda,” he told WMUR earlier in the campaign. “I’m interested in problem solving just like I would out on the factory floor. If we have something that’s not turning out right, we collect data, and we take information. We come up with a solution, hopefully an efficient one, that makes sense for all parties involved, and we move ahead.”

Whether that kind of talk plays with GOP primary voters is a key question in this race. Some voters will tell you they like the sound of someone who wants to get things done. The flip side of that is it’s unclear to lots of them what Hansel really wants to get done. His website includes very little in the way of a platform And while a “solutions-based” mindset may suit a GOP mayor of a small-city dominated by Democrats -- or be a decent message in a general election should he end up facing Kuster -- Hansel first must survive a Republican primary where lots of voters want something more hot-blooded,

Tang Williams: Liberty-minded and aligned with the Free State Project

Lily Tang Williams’s politics are quite libertarian; she actually ran for U.S. Senate in Colorado as a Libertarian in 2016. But it’s her life story that’s at the center of her politics.

Tang Williams was born in China, came to the U.S. in her 20s for graduate school at the University of Texas. Williams is vehement about individual liberty and says she’s fearful the US is becoming more like China. She even warned of a “cultural revolution” during an appearance on Fox news’ Tucker Carlson Show:

“That’s why I came here, because I love the motto ‘Live Free or Die,’ “ Tang Williams told Carslon. “And we also have lots of people like me who love freedom and appreciate liberty coming here through the Free State Project.”  

Some voters are.responding to Tang Williams, who’s been very energetic politically since arriving in New Hampshire. She’s been the town of Weare’s local GOP chair and the town supervisor of the checklist. Her politics aren’t going to fly with every Republican voter, but her personal story could attract supporters. And for staunch conservatives who are a bit less hard line on immigration and abortion – libertarians, in essence – Tang Williams could hold some appeal.

Abortion is one issue that divides these very different types of Republicans.

In Burns, voters have someone who proudly identifies a pro-life, and who supports enacting a fetal heartbeat law in Congress. In Hansel, they have a self-identfied “pro-choice” candiate, but oen who supports New Hampshire’s new law banning most abortions after 24 weeks. Williams, meanwhile, discusses the issue in terms of supporting a “culture of life” and also reducing abortions, which is certainly softer-toned than many hard-line Republcians on this issue.

There are other issues like that, and this primary can seem on paper like a bit of a case study of where the New Hampshire Republican Party is at this moment. But the race itself is still really a muddle. A recent poll out of St. Anselm College showed none of these candidates with significant support and fully 65% of voters undecided. Very little has been spent by any candidate to boost name recognition, which means most voters still know very little about these candidates.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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