In the past week, The Wall Street Journal released a poll showing Donald Trump’s support among GOP primary voters is approaching 60 percent; GOP Kristen Solis Anderson published a report on early state voter focus group research headlined “Most Republicans Really Like Trump;” and New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut announced he won’t enter the GOP primary for governor.
Coincidence, or something more?
News of Edelblut’s decision inspired high-fives among supporters of the two Republicans already in the race: former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and former state Sen. Chuck Morse. That might seem odd, given multiple published polls showing Edelblut had low name ID and single-digit support.
But the Ayotte and Morse campaigns believe, as do most Granite State GOP insiders, that Edelblut would have been a formidable primary candidate because he is a natural political ally of the MAGA base. And, as poll after poll — and primary election after primary election — have shown, the GOP is Trump’s party.
Edelblut’s exit, the thinking goes, leaves Ayotte and Morse fighting on the same political terrain: Traditional Republicans hoping to win the support of the Trump base.
Indeed, they have already started. Ayotte’s campaign touts the support they have from hardcore Trump backers like Bruce Breton. When asked if she would support Trump in 2024, Ayotte said, “I will support the Republican nominee.”
Morse, who is currently viewed as the underdog (two recent polls show Ayotte well ahead in the GOP field), may need Trump’s endorsement more, but he has also done more to link himself to Trump. He was at Trump’s speech in Windham last month, and he got a noteworthy shoutout from the former president at the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women luncheon in June.
“Good man, great guy,” Trump said of Morse. “I wish I’d endorsed you.” Then Trump added with a grin, “He says, ‘Me, too!’”
And, like Ayotte, Morse has publicly pledged to back Trump if he is the nominee.
Trump’s comment was a reference to the 2022 U.S. Senate primary when Morse and his campaign worked hard to get Trump’s endorsement. That race was won by retired Gen. Don Bolduc. However, Trump didn’t endorse Bolduc until after the primary. (Bolduc went on to lose badly to incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan.)
Did it matter that Trump didn’t formally endorse Bolduc? To observers of the race, the MAGA choice between the mainstream Morse and the election-denying general was clear, and Trump Republicans didn’t need any help figuring it out.
Which is why Edelblut presented a potential problem to the two current frontrunners. With or without a formal endorsement, Edelblut’s issue set and political sensibilities — fighting “woke” education policies and battling incoming attacks from the left-wing press — would be the most natural fit for the same primary voters who chose Bolduc, Bob Burns, and Karoline Leavitt in last year’s primaries.
With Edelblut out, it is possible that a Trump endorsement would be enough to sway MAGA voters between the two candidates. But that assumes that, with Edelbut out, it’s realistic to think that no true MAGA candidate will get in.
How realistic is that? If Trump wins the First in the Nation GOP primary by 30 points in late January and is the presumptive nominee by the end of February, will the Bolduc/Burns/Leavitt wing of the party clear the field in the governor’s race until September?
Ayotte and Morse supporters say it doesn’t matter, that there isn’t another MAGA-adjacent candidate who can self-fund as Edelblut can. If a serious candidate doesn’t get in the race soon, they won’t be able to raise the resources.
Really? Ask Bob Burns.
Burns had a minimal fundraising effort but managed to win the three-way Second Congressional District primary with the help of hundreds of thousands of dollars of Democrat-funded campaign ads. It was part of a $40 million national strategy from Democrats to elevate MAGA candidates like Burns and Bolduc in their own party’s primaries, so they could go on to lose the general election.
Asked about Edelblut’s decision, Burns told NHJournal, “Obviously, Frank out of the race leaves a large opening for a non-establishment candidate.”
As for the odds that there won’t be a MAGA candidate — perhaps Bob Burns himself — he replied, “It’s still really early, and if Trump were to get behind somebody else, they would have a real chance of winning.”
And why isn’t that person Frank Edelblut? He declined to comment over the weekend, but a source close to Edelblut previously told NHJournal their view that “Frank won’t get in the primary unless he believes he can win the general.”
If that’s true, Edelblut could be the New Hampshire GOP’s canary in the coal mine for a 2024 election with Trump at the top of the ticket.