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Don Bolduc wins New Hampshire’s GOP Senate primary, NBC News projects

Bolduc’s victory is a blow to Republican establishment leaders, including Gov. Chris Sununu, who preferred Chuck Morse to be their nominee against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan.
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Don Bolduc, a self-styled political outsider, has won New Hampshire’s Republican U.S. Senate nomination, NBC News projects, overcoming a push by the GOP establishment to elevate state Senate President Chuck Morse.

Bolduc will face Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, who was renominated easily Tuesday, in what’s expected to be one of the fall’s marquee matchups.

With less than two months until the general election, Hassan starts with a commanding cash advantage. She reported $7.3 million on hand at the end of August, according to campaign finance reports. Bolduc reported $84,000.

The primary — the last major contest before November’s midterm elections — had become a national battleground, with outside money from both parties flowing into a state that could determine partisan control of the Senate. 

Although there were other candidates, the GOP battle boiled down to a clash between insider and outsider. Morse, a longtime state legislator, had an endorsement from Gov. Chris Sununu and more than $4 million in air cover from a group with ties to establishment Republicans in Washington, D.C. 

Bolduc, a retired Army brigadier general, has more of a connection to the right-wing base. He has a reputation for incendiary rhetoric and for promoting 2020 election conspiracies. Despite his sparsely funded campaign, Bolduc had a Democratic group doing his dirty work, spending more than $3 million during the primary to tag Morse as a yes-man for Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, a villainous figure to many Republicans loyal to former President Donald Trump. Polls in the final weeks showed Bolduc ahead comfortably.

"Our campaign overcame the odds and millions of dollars in spending from outside special interest groups because we built a true bottom-up grassroots campaign," Bolduc said in a statement.

Republican Senate candidates Chuck Morse, left, and Don Bolduc participate in a Republican primary debate on Sept. 7, 2022, in Henniker, N.H.
Republican Senate candidates Chuck Morse, left, and Don Bolduc participate in a Republican primary debate on Sept. 7, 2022, in Henniker, N.H.Mary Schwalm / AP

Conceding on Twitter overnight, Morse said the focus should be on defeating Hassan in the fall.

Hassan, in a statement, called Bolduc "simply too extreme" for the state.

"This campaign will be a clear contrast between my record of delivering for the people of New Hampshire and Don Bolduc’s radical, backward-looking agenda," she said.

Sununu, who is seeking a fourth consecutive two-year term as governor, was renominated Tuesday, NBC News projects. He will face state Sen. Tom Sherman, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, in the general election. 

Meanwhile, in the GOP primary for New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District, NBC News projects Karoline Leavitt, a former Trump White House aide, has defeated Matt Mowers, who worked for Trump’s State Department and was the party's nominee for the seat in 2020. She will face Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas in November. Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns won the GOP primary for New Hampshire's 2nd Congressional District, NBC News projected Wednesday. He will face Democratic Rep. Ann Kuster.

Delaware and Rhode Island held primaries for several state and federal races, as well Tuesday. President Joe Biden, who keeps a home in Delaware, made a last-minute trip to the state Tuesday evening to vote.

Although Bolduc enters the general election campaign as the underdog, an August poll from Saint Anselm College found a majority of voters disapprove of Hassan's performance, suggesting vulnerability. And at the national level, both parties view New Hampshire as a top-tier race this fall.

Through Tuesday, Hassan and One Nation, a Republican group that has run ads criticizing her, had been the biggest advertising buyers in the Senate race, at about $9.8 million each, according to AdImpact, an ad-tracking firm. Morse had spent about $821,000 on ads, Bolduc around $14,500.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Republicans. Sununu, a popular and relatively moderate governor whose family is well known in state and national politics, was a top recruitment target for McConnell and gave serious thought to running. But Sununu passed, leaving the GOP without a heavyweight contender. Bolduc, meanwhile, had name recognition from his failed run in a 2020 Senate primary — and he never really stopped running for the job after that.

“I’ve been campaigning for two years now,” Bolduc said at a debate last week. “Over these two years, I’ve visited every town and city. I know you’re hurting. I share it with you. I know you’re paying too much money for everything. I will go to Washington, D.C. as your ambassador to work hard to change this. I will give you a voice — a voice that you do not have now.”

Bolduc held more than 50 town hall-style events, said his senior adviser Rick Wiley.

“We’ve been doing the little things with a little money — but it’s him, it’s the hustle,” Wiley said.

Morse had relied on his experience, falling back in debates on his work on specific legislation. Sununu’s endorsement, issued Thursday, may have come too late to help much, but Morse leaned into it heavily that night at the candidates’ final debate before the primary.

“I’m honored to have the endorsement of Gov. Chris Sununu,” he said. “As Senate president I worked with the governor to deliver the most conservative budget in the state’s history.”

Trump, despite wading into other key primaries this year, stayed out of New Hampshire — even as Republicans there urged him to take sides. Bolduc was viewed as the candidate most attuned to Trump’s movement. He has called Sununu, a Trump critic, a “Chinese Communist sympathizer.” He has advanced debunked claims that voter fraud cost Trump re-election. And he questioned the need for the FBI after the agency searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home. But Bolduc also has been critical of the former president, namely in 2020, when he accused Trump’s political operation of “rigging” that year’s Senate primary against him by endorsing eventual nominee Corky Messner.

Morse presented himself as a more traditional fiscal conservative and has not leaned into the election-denying conspiracy theories that other Trump allies have. After a debate last week, he told reporters he would not have objected to certifying Biden’s victory.

Another Republican who sought the nomination, former Londonderry town manager Kevin Smith, observed last week that the race had become a binary choice distasteful to many Republicans.

“Chuck Schumer, he’s gone all-in with millions of dollars for Don Bolduc, because we know he’s the weakest candidate to take on Maggie Hassan,” Smith said at a televised GOP debate, referring to the Senate Democratic leader whose aligned super PAC is spending the money on the anti-Morse ads. 

“So, if you want six more years of Mitch McConnell, well, vote for Chuck Morse,” Smith added. “If you want six more years of Maggie Hassan, vote for Don Bolduc.”