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In final days of N.H. GOP Senate primary, millions in advertising from out-of-state interests

Don Bolduc surrounded by supporters and microphones at his campaign filing in the New Hampshire Secretary of State's office
Todd Bookman
Don Bolduc, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, is the target of millions of dollars in negative advertising from White Mountain PAC, a national Republican group.

With state primary day now a few days away, it’s crunch time for candidates vying in high stakes federal primaries. For proof of that, just turn on your TV.

Campaign ads, particularly in New Hampshire’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, are hard to miss right now. That’s due to millions of dollars being poured into the race by out-of-state political action committees looking to sway the decisions of undecided voters in the campaign’s final hours.

White Mountain PAC, a Republican group created by a former staffer with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is spending $4.1 million on ads supporting state Senate President Chuck Morse and to attack his rival, Retired Gen. Don Bolduc.

Democrats are also spending in the Republican primary: The Senate Majority PAC, aligned with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, is spending $3.2 million on ads critical of Morse.

This spending comes as polls in this Republican primary show what they have for some time: that Bolduc, who also ran for the GOP Senate nomination in 2020, holds the lead, with Morse some distance behind — an average of 16 points behind in recent polls. Three other candidates — Kevin Smith, Bruce Fenton and Vikram Mansharamani — trail those two.

A barrage of ads boosting Morse, hitting Bolduc

The ads are a recognition by establishment Republicans that, absent a big change in momentum, Bolduc is in a very secure position heading into the Sept. 13 primary election.

The Republican-led effort to change that follows a simple, two-step strategy: boost Morse, while undermining Bolduc.

One immigration-focused ad includes footage of Morse, who runs a nursery and garden store in Atkinson, at the U.S.-Mexico border, and brands him a “tough conservative.”

The anti-Bolduc ad, meanwhile, highlights what watchers of this race in both parties see as a liability: Bolduc’s penchant for making extreme statements. He has claimed, for instance, without evidence that Gov. Chris Sununu is “a Chinese Communist sympathizer.” The ad also highlights Bolduc’s habit of staking out policies that are unlikely to fly with mainstream voters: eliminating the FBI and ending the direct election of U.S senators, for instance. In short, what the ad pillories as “Don Bolduc’s crazy ideas.”

Democrats are also spending in this GOP primary

New Hampshire has several Republican primaries in which Democrats are getting involved. But the Senate race is where the stakes, and the dollar amounts, are highest. The Senate Majority PAC, which is aligned with Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, is plowing $3.2 million into ads, attacking Morse as captive to lobbyists and the hand-picked candidature of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

If these ads are effective, they could make a Bolduc win even more likely. But Bolduc may not need the help. Polls show him the clear frontrunner at the point -- up 2 to 1 over Morse in some surveys.

But all the spending shows that New Hampshire’s Senate race remains one both parties see as crucial to winning Senate control in November. For Republicans, it also makes plain that once Sununu decided not to run for this seat, the traditionalist, establishment wing of the party didn’t have great options. Morse may look like a traditional candidate on paper -- two decades in the State House, with a solid record of conservative accomplishments -- but he hasn’t shown himself to be a strong campaigner. Bolduc, meanwhile, thumbs his nose at convention, makes incendiary, often conspiratorial claims, and is unbound by traditional Republican approaches. Yet he’s the one making the strongest connection with voters likely to cast ballots in this race.

“Washington DC has no damn idea what they are doing," Bolduc said during a recent debate among the GOP candidates. “They are meddling in New Hampshire politics.”

It was a very Bolduc response. We will see on Primary Day if he’s right.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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