New Hampshire is an odd state politically. Republicans have not won a Senate race there in over a decade and a presidential race for over two decades. In the last 10 years, Democrats have won both of the state’s U.S. House seats all but once: In 2014, Rep. Frank Guinta won the state’s 1st District, only to lose reelection in 2016 amid a campaign finance scandal. But the Republican Party has shown more signs of life locally, and this November there are hopes that the pendulum in the nation’s swingiest swing state may have reached its apex.
The state is politically most famous for having the first-in-the-nation primary during presidential-nomination contests. Iowa’s caucus notwithstanding, this status is so ingrained that, should any other state move its primary to try and usurp that status, New Hampshire’s secretary of state by law must reschedule its primary to remain first.
By contrast, New Hampshire seems less concerned with punctuality in other contests. While other states have been holding primaries for months, the state is conspicuously tied for last-in-the-nation status with Delaware and Rhode Island. While they’ve struggled in federal races as of late, New Hampshire Republicans have been very successful further down the ballot. GOP Gov. Chris Sununu easily won reelection in 2020 by over 30 percentage points, while then-President Donald Trump was defeated by Democratic nominee Joe Biden by about 5 points and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen won reelection by over 15 points.
Of course, GOP governors in blue states are hardly unheard of. Solidly Democratic Maryland, for example, has a Republican governor in Larry Hogan. So too does Massachusetts with Charlie Baker. And right across the Connecticut river, Bernie Sanders’ constituents have thrice elected Republican Phil Scott to the Vermont governor’s mansion. But appearances can be deceptive. New Hampshire is only the faintest hue of blue, if it can be said to be one at all. In the 2016 presidential election, Trump came within 3,000 votes of winning it over Hillary Clinton. And, while Democrats dominate every other statehouse in New England, Republicans flipped the state Senate and House in 2020. Though Sununu hews closer to the establishment wing of the GOP, he would not be totally out of place in the national party, and he rarely embraces outright liberal stances like the aforementioned governors.
This is why Republicans were disappointed when Sununu opted to not take on Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan and would instead run for reelection. Republicans only need to net one Senate seat to regain the chamber, and the popular Sununu was widely regarded to have been the strongest possible candidate to do it. The governor’s choice virtually guarantees Republicans will hold on to the governorship, but it has left them at something of a loss as to how to challenge Hassan. According to polls, retired Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc and state Senate President Chuck Morse are the leading Republican candidates. Bolduc has hewed more to the right in his campaign and has feuded with Sununu, while Morse is running closer to the governor. Democrat-aligned groups have dropped millions in ads attempting to meddle in the primary and boost Bolduc, while a political action committee aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is supporting Morse.
Democrats are also meddling in New Hampshire’s 2nd District, which composes the western part of the state. Sununu has endorsed Keene Mayor George Hansel, but the mayor has struggled to gain trust with Republican primary voters. According to the Keene Sentinel, Hansel “has voiced support for diversity, equity and inclusion and has said he wants to increase diversity on city boards and commissions.” The Democratic ads are boosting former Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns, a more conservative candidate who seems favored to win the Republican nomination over Hansel and face Democratic Rep. Ann Kuster in November. The 2nd District voted for Biden by about 9 percentage points, making it a difficult but credible target for Republicans.
The 1st District is the more Republican of the two, having only voted for Biden by 6 points in 2020, and Republicans have a competitive race to take on Rep. Chris Pappas. The leading candidate seems to be Matt Mowers, the Republican nominee for the seat in 2020 who lost to Pappas by 5 points. But Mowers is facing a strong challenge from Karoline Leavitt, a 25-year-old former White House staffer who has gotten endorsements from big names like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Also in the race is journalist Gail Huff Brown, the wife of former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown.
While Republican strength in New England has atrophied, New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” libertarian streak has kept it tantalizingly close. The GOP may have a shot to finally capitalize on it.