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Democratic incumbents fend off challengers in N.H.'s races for Senate, Congress

New Hampshire voters delivered a full victory for congressional Democrats in the state on Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan defeated retired U.S. Army General Don Bolduc in a race that saw a flood of national money in the closing weeks. U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas won reelection in the state’s highly competitive 1st Congressional District over Republican Karoline Leavitt. And U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster declared victory over Republican Robert Burns in the 2nd Congressional District, earning her sixth term in Washington.

The Democratic victories in New Hampshire came despite national concerns over the economy and inflation, which polls showed as the top issue for voters leading into Election Day.

The Associated Press called the race for Hassan just before midnight. As of 1 a.m. Wednesday, she held a 54% to 44% lead over Bolduc. N.H. Election Results

“Here in New Hampshire, Granite Staters put aside partisanship and we work together every day to solve problems,” said Hassan, a Newfields Democrat who won her second term in the Senate. “We have shown what is possible when we work to find common ground and deliver results.”

Incumbents buoyed by high voter turnout

With voter turnout predicted to reach at or near record levels for a non-presidential year, voters in New Hampshire were presented with clear choices on Tuesday. Leavitt and Bolduc both centered their campaigns on the economy, casting blame for persistent inflation on the spending packages passed by Biden and congressional Democrats. They also, without proof or evidence, spread false claims that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Bolduc’s position on the 2020 election results changed repeatedly throughout the campaign, while Leavitt said she believed the election was “stolen” and that vote totals for Biden were “preposterous." Election officials in New Hampshire and nationwide have consistently said there is no evidence of widespread fraud marring the 2020 election results.

photo of Karoline Leavitt speaking at a podium
Todd Bookman/NHPR
Karoline Leavitt during her concession speech on Election Night inside the Wentworth by the Sea Country Club.

Hassan, Pappas and Kuster, for their part, warned of what they termed the threats to democracy posed by their challengers. They also stressed their commitment to abortion rights throughout the campaign, efforts to bring in the costs of prescription drugs, and the preservation of Social Security benefits for retirees.

But as much as the economy and abortion dominated these races, Hassan was buoyed by high turnout and substantial name recognition, said UNH Political Scientist Dante Scala.

“Her relationship with New Hampshire voters matters enough on the margins to put her over the top in a difficult national environment,” said Scala.

For Bolduc, Tuesday’s election served as the culmination of a years-long effort. In 2020,the high-ranking military veteran lost the Republican primary to Bryant “Corky” Messner, who would go on and lose to Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Bolduc wasn’t the first choice of many establishment Republicans this election either, including early criticism from Gov. Chris Sununu for his embrace of conspiracy theories ranging from the source of COVID-19 to a more recent statement about busloads of voters illegally participating in New Hampshire elections, a claim with no proven validity.

But with a vigorous campaign style, Bolduc defeated state Senate President Chuck Morse in the GOP primary, and never stopped campaigning for the seat, hosting by his count more than 80 town hall style events.

Democrats vow to protect Social Security, abortion rights

A former two-term governor and state senator, Hassan eschewed unscripted public events during the campaign, instead relying on smaller tours of local businesses and factories. In the final weeks of the campaign, First Lady Jill Biden, along with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar also stumped alongside Hassan.

In her victory speech Tuesday night, Hassan vowed to focus on public safety, affordable housing, and child care, and to vote against any measure that would limit abortion rights.

“A strong country and a prosperous economy cannot relegate women to second class citizenship,” she told the crowd inside the Puritan Backroom restaurant in Manchester.

Hassan shared her election night headquarters with Pappas, a recognition that their political fortunes would likely be tied together.

The Associated Press called the 1st Congressional District race just before 1 a.m. Wednesday, Pappas led Leavitt, 54% to 46% with 79% of votes counted. Leavitt conceded late Tuesday night.

Pappas, 42, has been a fixture on New Hampshire ballots for two decades. This year’s campaign was his 11th, in a political career that has included successful bids for county and state government posts. During his speech Tuesday evening, Pappas spoke of building “a future that welcomes everyone and vilifies no one.”

"We are so much better off when we find common ground, when we find common cause with one another," he said.

Pappas and Hassan thanked their supporters, who chanted the candidates’ names as they waited for victory speeches.

Eric Soderberg, a supporter from Bedford, breathed a sigh of relief after Hassan left the stage.

“I didn't know whether to expect it or not,” he said. “I've been losing sleep for a couple of weeks now.”

But his wife, Beth Soderberg, warned that Democrats’ wins in New Hampshire might not be enough to keep the party in power in Washington.

“I’m worried that we're going to lose the House to the Republicans and that will be detrimental to getting anything done in the next two years,” she said.

Disappointed Republicans

At his election night party in Manchester, a dejected Bolduc addressed his supporters moments before Hassan’s victory speech. He read the poem “If,” by Rudyard Kipling, and then told the crowd: “If we could have everything we wanted it would be great. If we could always win, it would be great.”

Rick Wiley, Bolduc’s campaign manager, said via Twitter that Bolduc called Hassan to congratulate her and concede the race late Tuesday night.

In her first campaign for office, Leavitt put to use the skills she learned as a former Trump Administration press aide, a job she took after graduating from St. Anselm College. Born in Atkinson and now living in Hampton, Leavitt ran to the right of her main Republican primary challenger Matt Mowers, claiming an outsider image and criticizing Pappas for the state of the economy. She maintained that she would vote against any federal abortion restrictions, instead arguing the question of abortion rights is best left in the hands of state lawmakers.

“This is not the outcome we wanted,” Leavitt told the crowd inside the Wentworth by the Sea Country Club in New Castle around 11:15 p.m. Tuesday. “However, I want to say I’m so humbled and grateful for the support this campaign has received over the last 16 months.”

In the less competitive 2nd Congressional District, which stretches along the western portion of New Hampshire, Kuster, a Hopkinton resident, stressed her commitment to abortion rights and other core Democratic issues during the campaign. Burns, who lives just outside of the district’s boundary lines, highlighted concerns about the southern U.S. border and opioids, as well as the economy.

The Associated Press called the race for Kuster around 1 a.m. Wednesday, with Kuster holding a 57%-43% lead over Burns.

Following the Republican sweep of state government in 2020, party officials sought to use this year’s congressional redistricting process to give the party an advantage in the 1st District, which has seen both parties win close races over the past decade. But Republican lawmakers couldn’t persuade Sununu to back any of their various proposals, including a dramatic redraw that would have clustered towns along the I-93 corridor into a new district. The governor argued that he would support a map that kept both seats in play, and wouldn’t give Kuster an entrenched seat in the 2nd Congressional District.

After reaching an impasse, the state Supreme Court stepped in, making only minor changes to the congressional map to assure an equal population balance between the two districts. It’s unclear if Tuesday’s results will change Sununu’s position on a future redraw of the district lines.

(NHPR's Sarah Gibson contributed to this report.)

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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.

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