Candidates in N.H. 1st District GOP primary share core beliefs, but differ in tone, experience
It was a nice day for a barbeque, but the recent Granite Grill Out event hosted by Matt Mowers took place inside a function room at the American Legion post in Manchester.
After the Pledge of Allegiance and national anthem, Mowers, a candidate in the 1st Congressional District Republican primary, launched into his stump speech.
Mowers won his party's nomination for this seat in 2020 but lost to Democrat incumbent Chris Pappas. Between that race and this one, his family has grown.
“I think about my 1-year-old, Jack,” Mowers told the audience of about 50 people. “Only a few years away from going to school. Is he still going to be able to be taught that America is an exceptional country, not a racist one?”
New Hampshire’s 1st District is one of the country’s dwindling number of swing districts, and a sought after seat for Republicans looking to take back Congress this year. But with less than a week until election day, GOP voters still need to sort out who is the best candidate to challenge Pappas. If recent polls are accurate, a sizable number of likely voters remain undecided.
On many issues, Mowers and the other Republicans in this race are in lock step: They all support former President Donald Trump, and present a bleak vision of American life under President Joseph Biden. They also focus on issues discussed regularly on far-right television and talk radio, including curriculum in public schools and claims of eroding civil liberties.
With the candidates largely in agreement the race could boil down to how voters view their character, tone, and temperament, as well as age and experience.
Gail Huff Brown is a retired television journalist and wife of former U.S. Senator Scott Brown. She’s a generation older than Mowers, and at a different barbeque last month, also made a baby part of her campaign messaging.
“I got into this race because I became a new grandmother, and I looked at my little grandbaby, and I said, what are we leaving for her?” Huff Brown said.
She has criticized Mowers for voting in two different states in 2016, something he was legally cleared of but has remained a line of attack for his opponents.
“Matt, you are a fraud,” Huff Brown told him during a recent debate.
Like her opponents, Huff Brown talks frequently about immigration and the southern border, as well as energy prices. She does stand out on the issue of abortion, however, saying during a recent debate that “I am definitely pro-choice, in the old school view.”
That position may not have been out of the ordinary in New Hampshire GOP primaries in the past. But this year many candidates are pushing a harder-edged approach. One example is Karoline Leavitt, who worked in the Trump press office. During a debate on WMUR this week, didn’t shy away from attacking perceived enemies on the left.
“Hollywood, big tech, the corrupt mainstream media that I fought against in President Trump’s White House, are indoctrinating my generation of Americans into hating our country, hating one another based on race, and gender, and sex, and all of this other BS, quite frankly,” she said. “We need a congresswoman who is going to fight for our conservative American values: Love of God, love of country, love of freedom.”
Leavitt speaks to the base of the party; she also has repeatedly falsely claimed that Trump won the 2020 election. And while she is confident as a candidate, her resume is still fairly short. Marty Silvia of Kensington, a GOP voter who is backing Huff Brown, said he likes what he’s seen of Leavitt, but questions her readiness.
“Karoline is great, she’s wonderful,” he said. But regarding her age, added, “I probably have shirts and socks that are older than her.”
A recent poll from UNH shows voters may not mind her youth: Mowers and Leavitt are running neck and neck, with Huff Brown a strong third. Two other candidates are continuing to jockey for votes, which could shape the final outcome.
Tim Baxter is a New Hampshire state representative from Seabrook, and also in his 20s. He tweeted he supports imprisoning Dr. Anthony Fauci, and has earned the backing of Sen. Rand Paul. In debates, he checks off the federal agencies he’d like to see abolished, including the IRS and the FBI.
“To not abolish the Department of Education to allow these bureaucrats to run rampant and destroy our kids, that’s unacceptable,” he said during a recent debate.
The other major candidate in the race, Russ Prescott, may have the most traditional political resume, but that hasn’t been much of an asset this year. Prescott served in the New Hampshire Senate and as an executive councilor. Throughout this race, he’s positioned himself as capable, and even open to compromise.
“That's what we need to do everyday,” said Prescott during a debate. “We put aside our differences, find out where we agree on things, and work, not argue, not fight, work. Just get the job done.”
The job for these candidates, in the campaign’s final days, is selling why their style and substance is the right choice for primary voters.