In a defeat for Gov. Chris Sununu and the New Hampshire Republican establishment, challenger Chris Ager ousted four-term incumbent Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey at the NHGOP annual meeting in Meredith on Saturday. Sources inside the party tell NHJournal that, while the results of the vote aren’t being released, the race wasn’t close “A huge win,” one source said.
“I am honored to represent New Hampshire Republicans to the RNC,” Ager said after the vote. “I thank my predecessor for all of his service to the party and together we will win in November.”
After the results were announced, Duprey called for a unanimous vote on behalf of Ager and immediately resigned his position. “I was honored to move to make the election of Chris Ager unanimous and to also elect him to fill my unexpired term effective today,” Duprey said. “I look forward to continuing to find ways to help our party and our state in 2020 and in the years to come.”
For weeks, NHGOP insiders had speculated that Duprey might be in trouble — a fear reinforced when the incumbent committeeman took the unprecedented move of hiring a professional consulting firm, RightVoter LLC, to handle his campaign.
Turnout Saturday was high, a sign of the emotions inspired by the race. A total of 368 of the 505 NHGOP delegates showed up, far beyond the 275 or so veteran NHGOP activists were expecting.
Duprey had the support of several prominent Republicans, including Gov Chris Sununu, GOP state senate leader Chuck Morse and, perhaps most significant, former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. All to no avail.
Veteran Republican strategist Tom Rath tells NHJournal, “Steve has served New Hampshire with honor, skill and good humor. I am confident Chris Ager will continue that fight,” and Rath singled out his work “fighting to preserve our ‘First in the Nation’ status.”
Many Republican insiders speculate that the endorsements, glossy mailers and campaign consultants worked against Duprey, highlighting his role as the establishment incumbent running against a grassroots challenger. They also noted that Sununu’s endorsement appeared to make no impact on Duprey’s behalf.
After the vote, the governor issued a simple statement: “Congratulations to Chris Ager on his election today as Republican National Committeeman. Steve Duprey is a relentless protector and defender of our First-in-the-Nation Primary, and I would like to thank him for his years of service to our state and our party.”
The fight for the committeeman post is widely viewed as a proxy battle between the NHGOP party establishment and more conservative and pro-Trump grassroots activists. While Ager and Duprey declined to criticize each other, their allies filled GOP email boxes with attacks, particularly on the incumbent’s pro-abortion and anti-school choice background.
Ager also had the support of several high-profile NHGOP Trump supporters, including Rep. Fred Doucette and Windham Selectman Bruce Breton, the latter tweeting, “Congratulations @ChrisAger8 you will make a great member of the Republican National Committee and you are a great supporter of @realDonaldTrump ! #MAGA2020.”
However, GOP strategist Michael Dennehy pushed back on the idea that Ager is a renegade outsider kicking in the party establishment doors. “Chris Ager isn’t some hothead. He ran a perfect campaign. For example, he knows I’m a friend of Steve’s and he called me two weeks ago to say that, if he won, he wanted us to work together for the party. He’s doing this right.”
Another longtime NHGOP pro, Dave Carney, agreed. “Chris has been working on campaigns and for the party since at least the 1980’s,” he told NHJournal. “His work with the Hillsborough County GOP has been nothing short of outstanding. His leadership will be a great help in ensuring the party is in the best shape to help win this fall.”