Manchester, NH – In case you missed it, Drew Cline, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, penned a must read op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal on the driving forces behind General Bolduc’s momentum heading toward Election Day:
OPINION: Don Bolduc May Pull Off An Upset In New Hampshire
Wall Street Journal
By Andrew Cline
November 3, 2022
Reporters and political analysts wove a single story line through this year’s U.S. Senate races: Poor Republican candidate selection put multiple winnable races in jeopardy for the GOP. There’s truth to that. Yet its quick acceptance left an equally obvious story underreported: Many of the Democrats are terrible candidates too.
Sometimes these two story lines collide. That’s the case in New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate race between Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan and outsider Republican Don Bolduc. When GOP primary voters in September rejected a more experienced candidate in favor of Mr. Bolduc, a retired Army brigadier general, seasoned political observers agreed that Ms. Hassan had an easy path to re-election.
The day after Mr. Bolduc’s nomination, Vox declared national Democrats the winner. On Oct. 7, Politico declared that “New Hampshire appears increasingly out of reach for the GOP.” Now the race is a statistical tie. The two most recent polls show Mr. Bolduc nosing ahead. The outsider Republican who’s never held elective office has a real shot at beating the polished attorney whose decadeslong political résumé includes stints as state Senate president, governor and U.S. senator. Team Hassan has to be wondering how it wound up in this position.
Ms. Hassan’s campaign and the national Democratic Party were so sure they wanted to face Mr. Bolduc that the Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC spent more than $3.2 million in the Republican primary to attack his leading opponent, state Senate President Chuck Morse. Democrats and Republicans alike assumed that Mr. Morse, a 10-year veteran of the state Senate, would have broader appeal. Insiders in both parties believed the brash Mr. Bolduc would turn off independents and suburban voters. And there was the money issue. Mr. Bolduc didn’t spend a dime on TV ads during the primary. He couldn’t afford them.
Mr. Morse knew the issues, appealed to moderates, and could raise money. But Republican voters weren’t in the mood for someone who’d spent time in the political system. Vikram Mansharamani, a newcomer who ran in the primary against Messrs. Bolduc and Morse, said that everywhere he went in the state, the message from GOP voters was resounding: We want an outsider.
In Mr. Bolduc, they got one. And that’s why Ms. Hassan is in trouble. If the mood of the electorate is such that plain-spoken authenticity beats focus-grouped inauthenticity, then Ms. Hassan is at a distinct disadvantage. She is smart and accomplished, but in 20 years of public service she has carefully crafted a public persona rooted in late-1990s Democratic centrism. When she speaks to the public—which isn’t often—she is cautious to a fault. Every statement seems painstakingly crafted to mystify rather than clarify.
Mr. Bolduc still doesn’t have any money. His campaign has raised a paltry $2.2 million and spent $1.9 million. Ms. Hassan’s campaign has raised $38.2 million and spent $36 million. Despite being outgunned financially, Mr. Bolduc has managed to tie the race going into the final weekend. How?
Most obviously, Mr. Bolduc is more aligned with a majority of New Hampshire voters on the issues. He supports cutting federal spending and taxes, increasing domestic energy production, controlling the border, protecting Second Amendment rights and limiting foreign military engagements. He talks about inflation and energy prices constantly. Reluctant to draw attention to her voting record, Ms. Hassan relentlessly attacks Mr. Bolduc on abortion and Social Security. Whenever she mentions the Democratic Party, it’s to say that she stood up to it on some small, forgotten bill.
Ms. Hassan’s campaign thought Mr. Bolduc would crumble under her attacks on abortion and his previous claims, since renounced, that the 2020 election was stolen. But painting him as an extremist is a challenge in a state where many of his views are essentially mainstream.
Beyond policy, there’s culture, and here Mr. Bolduc has another advantage. He has an everyman appeal that Ms. Hassan lacks. He’s no conventional politician. Asked a question, he gives a plain and direct answer. From his regulation Army haircut to his sensible shoes, he maintains an image that many in a rural state find familiar. Nothing about him seems the slightest bit calculated.
He’s taken this show on the road, to great effect. Since losing a bid for the Republican nomination against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in 2020, he’s traveled the state in a continuous conversation with voters. He’s held dozens of town-hall meetings during this campaign, where he not only talks, he listens. At baseball games, fall fairs and town gatherings, it’s not uncommon to see Mr. Bolduc chatting amiably with strangers and letting kids pet his dog.
Ms. Hassan, by contrast, has a public persona that screams “political establishment.” She doesn’t release her public schedule, hasn’t had an open press conference in years, and studiously avoids engaging with anyone who isn’t screened by her staff. She had agreed to a debate hosted by the Nashua Chamber of Commerce, then said she would attend only if she and Mr. Bolduc weren’t on stage together.
New Hampshire is a quirky state that doesn’t mind sending unconventional outsiders to Washington. Mr. Bolduc is an outsider’s outsider. If he pulls this off, it will be an upset for the ages, due in part to his opponent’s impressive effort to maintain a protective buffer between herself and those she represents.
Mr. Cline is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.