New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Chris Ager arrived in Keene on Thursday ready with a joke to set the tone on a night when GOP gubernatorial adversaries Kelly Ayotte and Chuck Morse were appearing together for a party fundraiser.

“The next governor is in the room and identifies as him/her,” Ager quipped to a group of roughly 40 Republican activists, candidates, and elected officials who showed up for a fundraiser featuring North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. “I think I know which is which and who is who.”

The fundraiser was held at a GOP-friendly establishment. Tempesta’s, the Keene restaurant owned by Jimmy Tempesta, proudly features a pro-Donald Trump banner on its patio. The theme of the evening was unity, and Burgum lamented the fact that the Granite State is one of the last in the nation to hold its state primary. That means less time to pull the party together.

“It’s too bad you guys have this primary so late,” Burgum said. “Because, as Chris [Ager] said, the next governor is in this room. We’ve got to go compete. Competition makes our party stronger. But then we’ve got to unite, and we need to do that on a national level as well.”

The competition between Morse and Ayotte for the nomination has been heated enough to prompt state GOP officials to issue a formal call for “decorum and respect.”

“This call reinforces the importance of adhering to Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican,’” read an open letter signed by Ager and the state’s two GOP national committee members.

Party insiders told NHJournal the warning was issued mainly in response to the Morse campaign’s escalating series of attacks against Ayotte.

At Thursday’s event, Morse said his campaign is focused on “telling the truth.”

Gov. Doug Burgum (R-N.D.) and NHGOP gubernatorial candidate Chuck Morse at Cheshire County GOP fundraiser on April 25, 2024.

“I’ve been campaigning in every town and city and shaking every hand I can and basically telling the truth,” the former state Senate president told NHJournal. “I accomplished a lot as Senate president. Lowering taxes was just the beginning to drive our economy.

“But anything that I’m talking about is factual and there’s a big difference between my opponent and I and I will be pointing that out.”

Morse then pivoted to talking about his endorsement of Trump in the First in the Nation presidential primary. Morse’s outspoken advocacy of the eventual nominee starkly contrasted with Ayotte’s silence during the competitive primary season. Ayotte endorsed Trump after former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley dropped out of the race.

“If you think about the reason I came out and endorsed Trump, it’s what he just said: close the border, bring energy to New Hampshire, and keep taxes down,” Morse said. “That’s the winning recipe for the next governor of New Hampshire.”

Ayotte told NHJournal her focus continues to be preventing Massachusetts policies from creeping across the border and into New Hampshire.

“I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm about Republicans right now,” she said. “They see what’s happening in Massachusetts.

“They don’t want that for New Hampshire. Massachusetts stepped into it with higher taxes and spending $1 billion housing illegal immigrants. In this area, that message really resonates with people. You see them do things and think, ‘Really, how could you actually think that?’”

Burgum is often mentioned as a potential Trump vice presidential pick. During his remarks, he noted the lack of Republicans in the New England congressional delegation. (There’s just one—U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.)

“I meet people all the time who’ve never been to North Dakota,” said Burgum, who is not seeking another term as governor and is working instead to promote Trump’s candidacy. “I just want to point out that we’re the same size as all six New England states. But we’ve got twice as many senators than all of New England has Senate Republicans.”

Burgum also had a few things to say about Massachusetts.

“The one thing I want to touch on is public safety and the border because you guys are so close to it,” Burgum said. I’ve heard of this invasion of people moving from Massachusetts, some good, some bad, some coming home, and we’re happy for that in New Hampshire.

“But a state right next door, with $1 billion spent because of sanctuary cities, what happens if they [Democrats] take over the New Hampshire State House, if they elect the next governor? I’d like to think that people act rationally. But I literally can’t make sense of some of the policies because there’s nothing about having an open border that’s fair; there’s nothing about it that leads to justice.”

Burgum spoke for a little less than 45 minutes and was later given a “Live Free or Die” pint glass by Cheshire County Republican Committee Chairman Dan LeClair.

“We got you a little something to remember your trip to New Hampshire,” LeClair told Burgum.

“There it is,” said Burgum. “Live free or die.”