We made it! After six months of voting — remember Texas? — Tuesday marks the final primary day of the 2022 election cycle, with New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Delaware all set to choose their party nominees. And while these states are some of the nation’s smallest in both land area and population, New Hampshire and Rhode Island are making up for their size by hosting five big primaries that could have repercussions for control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as decide the next governor of Rhode Island. (Sorry, Delaware, there’s just not much happening in the First State.)
Races to watch: U.S. Senate; 1st and 2nd congressional districts
Polls close: 7 p.m. Eastern in most of the state, 8 p.m. in some localities
All the action in New Hampshire is on the Republican side, and the most closely watched race is undoubtedly the one for Senate. Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan could be vulnerable in purple New Hampshire, which is roughly 1 percentage point more Democratic than the country as a whole, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean index.
Early polls suggested Republican Gov. Chris Sununu could have seriously threatened Hassan, but to the chagrin of national Republican leaders, he announced late last year that he would not run for the Senate and would instead seek reelection. As a result, the Senate race attracted a crowded field of less-notable Republican contenders that has since turned into a two-man race between retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc and state Senate President Chuck Morse. The candidates differ markedly, too: Bolduc is known as a “loose cannon” who has promoted former President Donald Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen, while Morse is a longtime public official who has highlighted his experience on the campaign trail. Sununu, who last month labeled Bolduc as a “conspiracy-theory type” candidate, made a splash on Sept. 8 when he endorsed Morse.
However, while Bolduc lost in the 2020 GOP Senate primary, limited primary polling shows him to be the front-runner this time. A poll released on Sept. 9 by Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling found Bolduc ahead of Morse by 10 points, 33 percent to 23 percent, but with 25 percent undecided. PPP’s survey showed a closer race than a late-August poll from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center that found Bolduc leading Morse 43 percent to 22 percent and an early-August poll from Saint Anselm College Survey Center that found Bolduc up 32 percent to 16 percent. And while Bolduc led in each poll, Morse has a major fundraising edge that could help him close that gap. As of Aug. 24, Morse had raised $1.6 million to Bolduc’s $579,000, and the state-legislative leader also had almost seven times as much money for the final stretch of the campaign, $582,000 to Bolduc’s $84,000.
Outside groups have also spent millions as the parties jockey to help their chances in November. A super PAC backed by national Republicans has helped Morse by spending $4.6 million portraying him as “one tough conservative” who’ll fight for border security, and calling Bolduc’s ideas “crazy” by highlighting some of his controversial past statements, including calling Sununu a “Chinese Communist sympathizer.” But Senate Majority PAC, the Democrats’ principal outside group, has spent $3.1 million attacking Morse as a “sleazy politician” who is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s choice in the race. These ads haven’t mentioned Bolduc, but they’ve hit Morse for taking money from lobbyists, including one with connections to the Chinese Communist Party and another group that lobbied for pharmaceutical companies amid the opioid epidemic.
Hassan awaits the Republican primary winner, and FiveThirtyEight’s 2022 midterm election forecast currently gives her a clear edge. But her advantage will depend on who wins, as polling suggests Morse would give Hassan a more competitive race than Bolduc.
Republicans may have a better chance of flipping the 1st District, an R+1 seat covering eastern New Hampshire held by two-term Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas. Had Republicans in the state legislature gotten their way, this seat would have become more clearly GOP-leaning, but Sununu’s lack of support for it led to a map that made both of New Hampshire’s seats highly competitive.
The two leading Republican contenders in this district appear to be former Trump White House adviser Matt Mowers and former White House press aide Karoline Leavitt, but also in the race are former TV reporter Gail Huff Brown, whose husband is former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (who also had a failed Senate bid in New Hampshire in 2014), and state Rep. Tim Baxter.
Mowers has led in polls from independent outlets, but his margin has varied from the double digits to well within the margin of error. Most recently, the late-August UNH poll found him ahead of Leavitt only 26 percent to 24 percent, similar to Saint Anselm College’s poll from earlier in August, which found Mowers leading Leavitt 25 percent to 21 percent. By comparison, though, a mid-August co/efficient poll for NH Journal found Mowers ahead of Leavitt 31 percent to 16 percent.
Naturally, recent polls on behalf of the campaigns or their outside allies have either given Mowers a bigger lead or shown Leavitt running even with Mowers. For the most part, Huff Brown and Baxter have polled in the high single digits, although the UNH poll did find Huff Brown at 16 percent.
Interestingly, this race has sparked divisions within the House GOP’s leadership. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise have backed Mowers, while GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik has endorsed Leavitt, her former press secretary. This split is particularly revealing when it comes to the candidates’ presentation and tone. Although Mowers and Leavitt are both supporters of Trump and touch on leading conservative concerns, Mowers has said President Biden got the most votes, even though Mowers has also called for audits, while Leavitt has fully denied the outcome of the 2020 election. Mowers has also run ads that look ahead to the general election and attack Pappas and Biden for inflation and wasteful spending, while Leavitt has embraced the more combative language of the right.
But Mowers’s outside backers have more monetary muscle, which could put Mowers over the top, especially because he and Leavitt have run pretty even in campaign fundraising. The Congressional Leadership Fund, the House GOP’s main outside arm, has spent $1.3 million boosting Mowers, promoting him as a conservative who will secure the border and halt the trafficking of opioids. Meanwhile, Defending Main Street, which backs more moderate Republican candidates, has spent nearly $1.3 million attacking Leavitt, who is 25 years old, as a “woke Gen-Zer” who has mooched off her parents. For her part, Leavitt has received $204,000 in support from Truth & Courage PAC, a group connected to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, while New Hampshire Principles PAC has spent $437,000 attacking Mowers.
Next door, in the 2nd District, a D+2 seat, Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster is seeking her sixth term, and she’ll probably face either Keene Mayor George Hansel or former Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns. Polling here has found a large share of undecided voters, but the UNH poll gave Burns a 14-point lead over Hansel, 32 percent to 18 percent, while Saint Anselm College’s survey found them both at around 10 percent.
On paper, Hansel looks like a stronger general-election candidate than Burns. Hansel just jumped in the race three months ago, but he has already raised $377,000. He also identifies as “pro-choice” on abortion, which could help him in a state that isn’t super religious and has a lot of independents. Finally, Hansel’s ads have gone after Kuster on inflation, opioid trafficking and home heating bills, which may play more to a general-election audience. But Burns may have the inside track with GOP primary voters, despite having raised about half what Hansel has. He’s highlighted his “pro-life” stance on abortion and pro-Trump views. He’s also attacked Hansel as a “liberal, woke mayor.”
Democrats have noticed that Burns might be the weaker general-election choice, too, and have meddled accordingly. Democrats Serve, which typically supports Democratic candidates with public-service backgrounds, has spent $561,000 ostensibly attacking Burns as an “unapologetic conservative,” an approach used by Democrats elsewhere this cycle to help more right-leaning candidates win in the GOP primaries. But Hansel has received $664,000 in outside support from American Liberty Action, which has spent large sums in other Republican primaries this cycle to take down strongly pro-Trump candidates. We’ll find out on Tuesday which party got what it wanted.
Races to watch: governor; 2nd Congressional District
Polls close: 8 p.m. Eastern
The big-ticket race in Rhode Island is the primary for governor, where Democratic Gov. Dan McKee is seeking a full term after succeeding to the office as lieutenant governor following then-Gov. Gina Raimondo’s appointment to Biden’s Cabinet in 2021. But McKee is not the presumptive nominee; he’s now caught up in a mostly three-way primary with Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and former CVS Health executive Helena Foulkes, although former Secretary of State Matt Brown is also in the mix.
The polls suggest it’s a wide-open contest, too. Most recently, an early August poll from Fleming & Associates/WPRI/Roger Williams University found McKee at 28 percent and Gorbea at 25 percent. Yet, a June survey from Suffolk University/The Boston Globe put Gorbea slightly ahead of McKee, 24 percent to 20 percent, similar to the results of a late-July survey conducted for Gorbea’s campaign by Lake Research Partners that found her leading McKee 27 percent to 22 percent. In each of these polls, Foulkes was in the mid-teens while Brown was down in the single digits.
McKee isn’t benefiting much from incumbency, which isn’t actually that shocking: Historically, incumbent governors who ascended to the governorship because of resignation or death have been more likely to lose renomination than elected ones. McKee also has his own vulnerabilities, particularly an ongoing federal investigation into whether his administration improperly awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to a firm connected to a longtime McKee ally.
More broadly, though, McKee isn’t very popular: In the second quarter of 2022, Morning Consult found that more voters disapproved of him (43 percent) than approved (38 percent). Still, McKee has tried to play up his accomplishments, such as ending the annual tax on motor vehicles, investing in affordable housing and raising the minimum age to purchase a gun.
As for McKee’s main challengers, Gorbea wants to raise corporate taxes to fund social programs and help small businesses, and she’s highlighted her experience in housing development and running Rhode Island’s elections. She could also become the first Latina to be elected governor in New England. But Gorbea landed in hot water last month, when her campaign cited a conservative commentator in an ad attacking McKee, drawing liberal criticism and prompting McKee’s campaign to call her “desperate.”
Foulkes, meanwhile, has led the money race with $3.9 million in spending since last year (helped out by $1.3 million in self-funding), compared with McKee’s $2 million and Gorbea’s $1.8 million. Foulkes has tried to portray herself as an outsider who can get “big things done,” and she’s promised not to run for reelection if children’s education levels haven’t improved after her first term. Regardless of who wins, the Democratic primary winner will enter the general election as a favorite, with health-care executive Ashley Kalus looking to be the likely GOP nominee.
The other race of note in Rhode Island is the Democratic primary in the 2nd District, a D+16 seat in the western part of the state. Longtime Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin is retiring, leaving this seat open. Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner looks like the favorite in the Democratic primary, but he still has to fend off opposition from former Commerce Department lawyer Sarah Morgenthau and former state Rep. David Segal.
Magaziner started out running for governor but switched races following Langevin’s retirement, and he’s built up a major fundraising edge since then. He’s raised $2.4 million, far outpacing Morgenthau ($978,000) and Segal ($528,000), and he has also attracted $562,000 in outside support compared with none for his primary opponents. Magaziner has also earned endorsements from Langevin and the state party, and he’s played up his opposition to Trump and his intention to protect abortion rights and Social Security. But Morgenthau has sought to break through by arguing that, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion, it’s time for Rhode Island to send a Democratic woman to Congress for the first time.
On paper, the winner of this primary should be very likely to win in November, but former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is hoping to give Republicans a shot at winning here. Our forecast gives Democrats an edge, but it’s also the bluest district in the entire country to only “lean” toward Democrats, so there’ll be plenty to watch here after the primary.
Please join us for our final primary live blog in 2022 on Tuesday starting at 7 p.m. Eastern. We’ll react to the results in New Hampshire and Rhode Island and talk about the contours of the upcoming general election now that we’re less than two months from November.