Months of primaries come to an end Tuesday when a pair of New England states hold the final major contests before November’s general election. The themes are similar to what we’ve heard since the first contests in Texas on March 1: Republicans are grappling over former President Donald Trump’s influence in Senate contests, and Democrats are wondering how best to hold on to their narrow congressional majorities.
Here are five races to watch in New Hampshire and Rhode Island:
Can Republicans Avoid Yet Another Problem Child In A Senate Race?
Trump-aligned, election-denying Senate candidates have largely had their way in Republican primaries this cycle, from Herschel Walker’s rout in Georgia to venture capitalist Blake Masters’ victory in Arizona. These wins have contributed directly to the GOP’s struggle to capitalize on a weak political environment for Senate Democrats, and Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire could give the party its biggest headache yet.
Don Bolduc, a retired Army brigadier general, endorsed abolishing the Department of Education and the FBI. He’s also called for the repeal of the 17th Amendment, which guarantees the direct election of senators. He’s suggested the state’s popular Republican governor, Chris Sununu, is a “Chinese communist sympathizer.” And he’s the leading candidate to challenge Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan.
Establishment Republicans are scrambling to stop him. Sununu made a last-minute endorsement of his main primary opponent, New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse. And a super PAC popped up ― with money almost certainly from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s political operation ― to spend roughly $4.5 million attacking Bolduc’s “crazy ideas,” which it said will “lose to Maggie Hassan.” A Democratic super PAC responded with $3 million worth of its own ads blasting Morse as a lobbyist-friendly “sleazy politician” and tied him to the opioid industry.
Trump has not actually endorsed in the race, though Morse, whose demeanor and long career in politics do not exactly scream “MAGA faithful,” lobbied the former president for his backing.
Republicans say Hassan’s numbers are middling enough that the race will be competitive regardless of who wins the primary, but it’s also clear both parties agree Bolduc will be a substantially easier opponent. Republicans desperately need to keep the New Hampshire race competitive with their hopes of winning in other states dwindling.
One thing that could save Republicans: Other states where the party’s Trump wing has suffered surprise losses, including Georgia and Colorado, have open or semi-open primaries allowing non-Republicans to cast ballots. New Hampshire’s primaries are open to all.
McCarthy vs. Stefanik
New lines for the Granite State’s 1st District, which broadly covers the eastern half of the state, have made it much more Republican than it was before this round of redistricting. But it’s not quite Republican enough to undoubtedly doom Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas.
That’s made the battle for the nomination in New Hampshire especially interesting. An initially crowded field of GOP candidates has narrowed down to two candidates best known for their Washington ties: Matt Mowers, the 2020 nominee in this district and a former Trump administration staffer with the backing of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Karoline Leavitt, a former staffer for Trump and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who has the backing of Stefanik and a host of other conservatives, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC controlled by allies of McCarthy, has spent more than $1 million boosting Mowers. And Defending Main Street, a PAC set up to boost establishment Republicans, has spent another $1 million on ads attacking the 25-year-old Leavitt as a “woke Gen Z-er” and claims she “mooches off her parents.” (Leavitt would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.) The ads could be effective in New Hampshire, the second-oldest state in the nation.
Democrats don’t see much difference between running against Mowers or battling Leavitt. Pappas is in for a tough race either way.
Democrats are far less worried about Rep. Annie Kuster, who represents New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District. Her district got more Democratic in redistricting ― Democrat Joe Biden won it by about 9 percentage points in the 2020 presidential race ― but it still could be vulnerable in a GOP wave year. So they’re trying to pick Kuster’s opponent.
Democrats Serve, which backs candidates with a background in public service, has spent thousands of dollars boosting Trump-aligned Bob Burns with ads on Fox News, arguing he “follows the Trump playbook on immigration, the border and guns.”
The spending could keep Burns competitive with Keene Mayor George Hansel, a relative moderate who describes himself as pro-choice.
Choosing A Rhode Island Democrat To Take On A GOP Moderate
Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin’s decision to retire has opened up Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District, the more moderate of the state’s two Democratic-leaning House seats. While Biden carried the seat by 14 percentage points in 2020, Republicans are signaling that they plan to contest it in November. The presumptive GOP nominee is former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, a self-described moderate who unsuccessfully ran for governor twice.
The six-candidate Democratic primary to take on Fung has focused on questions of electability. Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who has raised the most money and garnered the most endorsements, is the polling favorite. Former Biden administration official Sarah Morgenthau has also raised enough money to advertise on television.
But the two cash-rich contenders face attacks from Joy Fox, a former Langevin aide, who argues that her local roots make her the strongest contender against Fung. She has noted that Magaziner moved into the district only to run for office and that Morgenthau made Rhode Island her permanent home for the first time this year.
David Segal, a former state representative who founded the advocacy group Demand Progress, has dominated the left lane in the race. He maintains that his populist stance against “corporate special interests and political corruption” would provide the best contrast with Fung.
Progressives Test Their Gains In The Ocean State
The resurgent left in Rhode Island made serious gains in the state legislature in the 2018 and 2020 election cycles, ousting conservative Democrats and humbling others with strong showings. Those gains have enabled a flurry of progressive lawmaking, from a climate change bill to the adoption of a $15 minimum wage and the codification of abortion rights, that had previously been impossible.
Progressives have yet to win a statewide office in Rhode Island, however. The chances of a progressive candidate winning the Democratic gubernatorial primary to replace Gina Raimondo, whom Biden appointed secretary of commerce, remain slim. Democratic Gov. Dan McKee, a moderate seeking a full term in office, led Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, a mainstream progressive, and Helena Foulkes, a former CVS executive, in a public poll in mid-August. The left-wing gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown, a former secretary of state who founded the Rhode Island Political Co-Op, had support in single digits and is considered a long shot.
The Co-Op, whose aggressive approach to electing left-wing Democrats has elicited criticism, may have a slightly better chance in the lieutenant governor’s race. In that contest, Brown’s running mate, state Sen. Cynthia Mendes, is taking on Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, who replaced McKee when he ascended to the governorship, and state Rep. Deb Ruggiero. The group has also endorsed 14 state House candidates and 13 state Senate candidates, including nurse Lenny Cioe, who is seeking to unseat state Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.