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CONCORD, NH – Five days away from the primary in the key battleground state of New Hampshire, former President Donald Trump remains neutral in the latest competitive and high-profile GOP Senate nomination race this cycle.
But on Thursday, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu weighed in in the primary, backing one of the frontrunners in the showdown — New Hampshire State Senate President Chuck Morse.
“We Republicans here in New Hampshire have a very big decision to make, and we have to get it right. We’re going to nominate the next United States Senator from New Hampshire. And for the good of this great state, we have to defeat Maggie Hassan in November and the best candidate to do that is Chuck Morse,” Sununu said as he stood next to Morse during a press conference at the Governor’s Mansion in New Hampshire’s capital.
Morse is one of the co-leaders in the crowded field of contenders, but retired Army General Don Bolduc is in double digits in the last two public opinion polls. The other main competitors in the multi-candidate field – cryptocurrency entrepreneur Bruce Fenton; businessman, economist and author Vikram Mansharamani; and former Londonderry, New Hampshire, city manager Kevin Smith – recorded in single digits in the polls, and a high percentage of respondents were still undecided.
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The winner of the Sept. 13 primary will face former governor and first Democratic senator Maggie Hassan in the key general election battleground state in November in a race among a handful across the country that could determine whether the GOP wins. support the senatorial majority. Republicans have heavily targeted Hassan, whom they see as highly vulnerable due to his lackluster polls.
“Chuck Morse has been there every step of the way on our journey of success here in New Hampshire,” Sununu, who remains hugely popular among Granite State Republicans, said of the small-business owner who served as chairman of the state senate for most of the past decade. “I couldn’t be prouder to support a partner I had at the Statehouse.”
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Morse, in thanking Sununu for his support, underlined that “everything the Governor and I have accomplished in the State of New Hampshire since his arrival – in 2016 – is definitely the driving force behind what this State stands for.”
Trump, who remains the most popular and influential politician in the GOP as he continues to play the role of kingmaker in party politics and repeatedly teases the 2024 presidential election, said last week that he was seriously considering endorsing one of the first two polls in the race.
“I’m watching this race very closely,” Trump said on conservative radio host John Fredericks’ radio show, which is popular with conservatives across the country.
Trump – who yelled at Bolduc a year ago after the retired general during an interview on ‘Fox and Friends’ was highly critical of President Biden’s withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan – said in last week’s interview that Bolduc had “said some good things, strong guy, tough guy. I think he’s doing great too.
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Bolduc, who served 10 tours of duty in the war in Afghanistan, is making his second consecutive run for the GOP Senate nomination in New Hampshire. His 2020 bid failed, in part because Trump backed Bolduc’s rival. After keeping Trump at bay during his first Senate campaign, Bolduc firmly bought into the former president’s unproven claims that the 2020 election was “rigged” and “stolen.” Bolduc was among a group of retired generals who signed a letter questioning the legitimacy of the election due to what they accused of being “an enormous amount of fraud”.
While Bolduc has given New Hampshire conservatives plenty of red meat, some Republicans in the state and nation fear that a primary victory for the retired general, who fought hard to raise funds, will allow Hassan to to be re-elected.
Last week, a newly formed super PAC named White Mountain PAC, which has loose ties to the longtime political orbit of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, launched a Morse-boosting New Hampshire television ad, as part of what national ad-tracking firm AdImpact is reporting is a massive $4 million booking for airtime ahead of the primary. The group’s second ad, which launched earlier this week, targeted Bolduc.
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While Trump remained neutral in the primary battle, former Trump White House chief strategist and former media executive Steve Bannon heavily promoted Bolduc on his radio show. But Corey Lewandowski, a longtime New Hampshire resident and veteran political adviser to Trump who led Trump’s 2016 presidential primary campaign, sharply criticized Bolduc.
Sununu told Fox News at Thursday’s event that during the call he received last week from Trump, “I very strongly encouraged him to get involved in the race. I told him that I thought Chuck Morse was not just a great candidate, but the candidate.”
Sununu also pointed to a massive seven-figure ad buy that targets Morse by the Senate Majority PAC — the top Senate Democrat-supporting super PAC that is aligned with Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer — by praising Morse.
“We need people with a record of success. Chuck Morse is the candidate, the candidate, to beat Senator Hassan to power in November and the candidate Senator Hassan is most afraid to face,” Sununu said. “We have Chuck Schumer spending $3 million…right here in New Hampshire against this guy because they’re so scared. They know Senator Morse is the most likely candidate to soundly defeat Senator Hassan in November.”
It’s no surprise that Sununu endorsed Morse – who in the state Senate represents Salem, the town where Sununu was raised as a young child – over Bolduc.
Last month, Sununu criticized Bolduc.
“He’s not a serious candidate, he really isn’t, and if he were the GOP candidate, I have no doubt we would have a much harder time,” Sununu said of Bolduc during the interview. a recent interview on a statewide morning radio show. “He’s kind of a conspiracy theorist-type candidate.”
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Bolduc claimed last year that Sununu was a “Communist Chinese sympathizer” and that the Sununu family business “supports terrorism”. Although Bolduc has backed down from these attacks on the popular governor, he continues to criticize Sununu’s policies during the coronavirus pandemic, calling them “executive overreach”.
When asked if he wondered if Bolduc could defeat Hassan in November, Sununu told Fox News, “I have full confidence that any Republican will win, but there’s no doubt that Chuck Morse has the best chance, and not just winning but winning resoundingly. We want to have the tailcoats.”