ATKINSON, New Hampshire – Just two months ago, the governor of New Hampshire called Don Bolduc “a conspiracy theorist.” But now, a week before Election Day, Gov. Chris Sununu is pledging his support. And the leader of the Republican Party’s campaign to take back the US Senate last weekend sided with Bolduc, calling him a “true patriot.”
“I’m here for one reason, and that’s to make sure that Don Bolduc becomes the next U.S. senator,” Florida Sen. Rick Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told dozens of voters Sunday in Atkinson, S.C. New York. Hampshire Community Centre.
“Here’s a guy who is a true patriot,” Scott said, introducing Bolduc, a retired Army general. “He served his country. He believes. He cares.”
The dynamic in New Hampshire reflects the GOP’s growing confidence in candidates that party leaders believed were essentially unelectable — or at least seriously flawed — just weeks or months ago. But as we approach the last full week of the 2022 midterm elections, Republican leaders are betting that anti-Democratic political difficulties will supersede what Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell himself has called problems with the “quality of candidates” in his party.
Republican Senate candidates from Arizona to Georgia and from North Carolina to New Hampshire are grappling with revelations about their personal lives, extreme positions and lackluster fundraising. However, they may be able to win on November 8. Leaders of both parties believe that Republicans are poised to win a majority in the House of Representatives as well as control of the Senate.
At the same time, Republicans are waging a competitive battle for governorships in states such as Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin.
As Republican optimism grew, Democrats were forced to take a defensive stance with voters eager to punish the party that controls Washington for rising inflation, worries about crime and general pessimism about the country’s direction. The Democratic front-runner, President Joe Biden, weighed down by weak approval ratings, has avoided many of the nation’s most competitive battlegrounds, fearing he would do his party more harm than good.
Biden is set to spend the night before Election Day at a rally in blue Maryland. This week he will travel to New Mexico and California, two Democratic strongholds where Republicans are threatening to make gains.
Former President Barack Obama rallied voters in Michigan and Wisconsin over the weekend.
“I understand why people are worried,” Obama said in Detroit. “Indignity is not an option.”
It was First Lady Jill Biden, not her husband, who campaigned with New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan on Saturday. The first lady called the New Hampshire Senate race a “huge race” and urged volunteers to “dig a little deeper” and “work a little harder” in the coming days.
In an interview minutes before taking the stage with the first lady, Hassan declined to say whether she wanted Biden to run for a second term when asked.
“How about we just survive 2022?” Hassan said. “It’s obviously his decision.”
The GOP’s embrace of risky Senate contenders has been playing out for months in states like Georgia, where $60 million will be spent on television ads for Republican Herschel Walker before Election Day. The support comes even as Walker faces reports of violence and mental health issues from his past and recent allegations that he paid at least two women to have abortions. Walker denied the abortion allegations.
The GOP is also rallying behind Arizona Senate challenger Blake Masters, a so-called election denier who earlier this year was seen as deeply flawed by GOP leaders. Washington Republicans aggressively recruited outgoing Gov. Doug Ducey to run for Senate, but Ducey declined.
Masters, a 36-year-old venture capitalist, is now the GOP’s only hope to defeat incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut. Ignoring Masters’ take on former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, former Vice President Mike Pence recently campaigned for the Arizona Republican, calling him “one of the GOP’s brightest stars.”
In North Carolina, local Republicans expressed concern about the strength of Trump-backed Republican Senate candidate Ted Budd. The congressman, who struggled to galvanize Republican voters in his campaign against Democrat Cheri Beasley, the former chief justice of the state Supreme Court. Local GOP officials have openly criticized Budd for skipping a recent debate against Beasley, even though Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas campaigned with him last week.
It was much the same in Ohio, where local officials opposed Trump’s preferred Senate candidate, J. D. Vance, a venture capitalist who promoted lies about the former president’s election and was rejected as a fundraiser.
Stephen Lowe, a top McConnell aide who runs McConnell’s superparty known as the Senate Leadership Foundation, says the obvious flaws in the candidates — including those who ran against McConnell himself — are far less important than the party’s ultimate goal this fall: victory.
“At the end of the day, we are focused on getting the majority. And I feel like a lot of those issues have fallen by the wayside as we work toward that goal,” Law said in an interview.
Still, the Senate Leadership Fund in recent days shifted roughly $6 million it had planned to invest in the New Hampshire senatorial race to Pennsylvania, suggesting it was essentially abandoning Bolduc. But just days later, the NRSC invested another $1 million — and Scott, its chairman, campaigned with Bolduc, sending an unmistakable message that the GOP was behind the controversial New Hampshire Republican.
Over the weekend, a conservative group affiliated with the conservative Heritage Foundation put another $1 million into Bolduc’s candidacy.
Bolduc, meanwhile, continues to defy Washington leadership in both parties, running an aggressive retail campaign across New Hampshire. In a brief interview outside Windham Town Hall on Saturday, Bolduc said he would work to replace McConnell and other Republican leaders if elected.
“The leadership on both sides has dragged us into the mess we find ourselves in. I’m the only candidate who says that,” Bolduc said. “This is a Republican problem. This is a problem for the Democrats.”
At the town hall, one Bolduc supporter mistakenly thought Bolduc supported abortion rights. She tried to explain his position as he shook her hand before going on stage.
“I have a question,” said the voter, who declined to give her name. “Are you pro-choice?”
“I’m pro-life,” Bolduc replied.
He added that he would not support a federal ban on abortion and would instead prefer that the issue be decided at the state level. Although Republicans in Dover, New Hampshire, said earlier this year, “I’m not going to vote against pro-lifers. I respect life from beginning to end.”
Sununu, the New Hampshire governor who Washington Republicans tried to recruit and failed to pick up for a Senate bid, addressed his shift toward Bolduc during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday. In August, Sununu called Bolduc a “frivolous candidate” and a “conspiracy theorist extremist.”
“Don and I didn’t see each other during the primary,” Sununu said. “But again, I’m going to support the Republican ticket because the issues that people are voting on are inflation, gas prices, fuel oil prices, which are skyrocketing here in New Hampshire and of great concern.”
Sunun was not asked about Bolduc’s repeated allegations of voter fraud in New Hampshire.
Bolduc has softened his tone since winning the GOP primary, but during a debate last week he falsely claimed voters were bused into the state to vote illegally. And when asked about the integrity of the 2020 mayoral elections at the beginning of the month, he said: “I can’t say whether they are stolen or not.”
Meanwhile, Hassan, a former Democratic governor with a big fundraising lead, acknowledged that Bolduc is running a competitive campaign.
“Don Bolduc has worked very hard to hide his extremism from the people of New Hampshire,” she said. “He’s the most extreme candidate for the US Senate we’ve seen in New Hampshire’s recent history.”
Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, who chairs the Democratic Senate Caucus, predicted that Democrats would retain their narrow majority in the Senate because of the stark contrast in the candidates.
“The Republicans have created a group of extreme characters who are not ready — not just for prime time, but anytime,” Peters said. “There is no red wave. And we will win. But these will be close races.”
Associated Press writers Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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