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Leavitt claims victory in GOP congressional primary, topping five-person field

Karoline Leavitt, a Republican from Hampton who worked in the Trump administration, has won the GOP primary in New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District.
Dan Tuohy
Karoline Leavitt, a Republican from Hampton who worked in the Trump administration, has won the GOP primary in New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District.

Karoline Leavitt has won the Republican primary for New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, setting up a face off in November with incumbent Democratic Congressman Chris Pappas.

Just after 11 p.m. Tuesday, Leavitt declared victory and thanked her supporters in Hampton after she had maintained a steady lead over her main rival, Matt Mowers, for much of the evening.

Leavitt touted her experience as a White House press aide to former President Donald Trump to capture the base of the GOP with a full-throated embrace of “Make America Great Again” policies and of baseless claims the 2020 election was stolen.

At 25 years old, Leavitt is the minimum age for serving in Congress. She said her youth is a driving force behind her campaign.

“It’s my generation of Americans – your children, your grandchildren – who are not being served well by the current state of our education system, our media, and our entire culture,” Leavitt said in her victory speech at The Community Oven in Hampton.

Leavitt said she would work to “abolish” the U.S. Department of Education and to “keep the government out of our everyday lives, out of our education system, and out of our election system.”

The 1st District is considered a toss up by national political analysts. With 80% of votes tallied early Wednesday morning, Leavitt won 34.7%, while Mowers garnered 25.3%, according to the Associated Press.

In debates and in media appearances this summer, Leavitt painted a dark portrait of American life under President Joe Biden. In her victory speech, she portrayed Pappas, 42, as a Democrat in lock-step with his party.

“This upcoming election in November is about one thing: stopping the radical Biden, Pelosi, Pappas socialist agenda that has been ripping off families like yours and mine every single day,” she said.

“Is it socialist or anti-white?” a supporter then called from the back of the room, before he was asked to leave and escorted out.

Leavitt has also continued to falsely claim the 2020 election was “stolen” from Trump, despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud. She campaigned on a platform of completing the construction of a wall along the southern U.S. border, and an expansion of fossil fuel use.

Leavitt, a graduate of Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, also worked in communications for Republican U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York. She picked up some big name conservative endorsements over the course of the campaign, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. In New Hampshire, the three co-chairs of Trump’s 2016 campaign endorsed her.

State Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican who was one of those co-chairs, said Leavitt resonates with people.

“Karoline was the real deal because she’s sharp,” he said. “I mean, this girl comes right out of the box and she’ll take your head off in a heartbeat and a smile, and give you an answer with a solution. Know what I’m saying?”

Leavitt cast herself as a “homegrown conservative,” who scooped ice cream at her family’s stand in Atkinson. She has also worked at her family’s used car dealership in Plaistow.

After Mowers started the campaign as the clear frontrunner, polls showed the race closed significantly in the final weeks, with Mowers and Leavitt in a dead heat. The two former Trump administration staffers stressed their allegiance to the former president in debates and in interviews, while joining together to criticize Pappas and the Democratic agenda in Congress.

Matt Mowers speaks to supporters at his election night party in Manchester, Sept. 13, 2022.
Todd Bookman / NHPR
Matt Mowers speaks to supporters at his election night party in Manchester, Sept. 13, 2022.

Mowers, 33, has spent more than a decade in Republican politics, working for former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s failed 2016 presidential campaign, and then for former President Trump. He served as an advisor in the Trump State Department, and ran on a platform of continuing Trump’s “America First” policies, including curbing immigration across the southern United States border and expanding domestic energy production.

Late Tuesday, as Leavitt maintained her lead over him in vote returns, Mowers left his campaign gathering in Manchester without giving a speech.

In a statement on Twitter late Tuesday night, Mowers said: “I got into this race to give a voice to those Granite Staters who felt left behind by the political class in Washington and to restore American strength and leadership around the world. Unfortunately, tonight’s results did not go our way, but I will never stop fighting for those middle-class families to ensure they are not forgotten.”

Mowers was the 2020 GOP nominee for the same seat, losing to Pappas, 51% to 46%.

Gail Huff Brown finished in third place in Tuesday’s GOP primary, garnering 17.5% of the vote. A former television journalist and wife of former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, Huff Brown portrayed herself during the campaign as having the experience and independence to serve New Hampshire. She also labeled Mowers a “fraud” after he voted in two different states in 2016. The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office found no evidence Mowers broke the law.

Two other candidates vying for the primary nomination – Tim Baxter, a state representative from Seabrook, and Russ Prescott, a former state senator and executive councilor – each garnered 9% and 11% of the vote, respectively.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
Dan is a long-time New Hampshire journalist who has written for outlets including Foster's Daily Democrat, The Citizen of Laconia, The Boston Globe, and The Eagle-Tribune. He comes to NHPR from the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he reported on state, local, and national politics.
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