Granite State Republicans will have a lot to ponder as they pick through the wreckage of Tuesday night’s primary. Even the most ardent Trump supporters concede that a ticket led by Don Bolduc and Bob Burns won’t make winning in November any easier. Just a few months ago, New Hampshire Republicans could plausibly make the case for a possible GOP sweep of the three federal races.
As of Wednesday morning, the fear is of yet another Democratic sweep of the delegation.
What happened? Did traditional Republicans decide to back more MAGA candidates? Was there a surge in Trump-motivated voters in the midterm primary turnout? Did the tidal wave of last-minute TV ads make it all but impossible for voters to sort through messages and make an informed choice?
Those answers won’t come until more information about who showed up to vote is available. However, some truths are self-evident in the hours after the election ended.
New Hampshire’s Primary System Is A Fiasco. The Granite State may be great at running the First in the Nation presidential primary, but its “last in the nation” state primary is a nightmare. Having a system where the nominee merely needs a plurality — as opposed to “50 percent of the vote plus one” — is bad enough. Because there’s no minimum threshold of votes to win the nomination, the New Hampshire GOP has three candidates headed into the fall who won less than 40 percent of the primary vote.
In other words, 60 percent of the members of their own party just voted for someone else.
Republicans now have less than two months to unite around candidates like Burns, who got just 33 percent of the vote in NH-02. Gov. Chris Sununu, who has defended New Hampshire’s late primary in the past, admitted on the Drew Cline radio show Tuesday morning that “I don’t mind moving the primary date, I’ve come to that. I was 50-50. But not August. Maybe the second or third week in June.”
And several state legislators who’ve long opposed a move to a June primary now tell NHJournal on background this year pushed them over the edge and they’re prepared to consider a change.
The NHGOP’s Lack of Leadership Matters. It’s a cliche to point out that political parties don’t have the power and influence they once did. Donors want to give their money directly to candidates or specific causes, not some nebulous political organization. The days of party leaders picking and choosing candidates in backrooms are clearly over.
At the same time, a complete lack of party leadership leads to wide-open, destructive and costly primaries. With three potentially winnable seats up for grabs in November, there was no sign of any attempt by New Hampshire Republican leaders to help craft the field of candidates, to work toward getting a Glenn Youngkin — the Virginia success story — as opposed to a Christine O’Donnell.
For example, Sununu is extremely popular among GOP voters. He also faced three primary challengers last night.
Sen. Maggie Hassan’s poll numbers are weak at best. She has abandoned her party and its progressive base by embracing Trump’s s0-called “racist” border wall and Title 42 policy. After years of voting for green technology and against expanded petroleum production, Hassan’s now demanding more oil drilling and a tax cut on fossil fuels. Was there a TV debate featuring her two unknown, unfunded challengers in the Democratic primary on Tuesday? Of course not. Because Granite State Democrats have enough organization to help prevent meaningful primary challenges, they have enough party leadership to help craft the electoral field.
The NHGOP doesn’t.
The ‘Electability” Argument Doesn’t Work Anymore (If It Ever Did). On his Tuesday radio hit, Sununu also said he endorsed state Sen. Chuck Morse for U.S. Senate “first and foremost because he can win. You can’t govern if you don’t win.”
But it turns out you also can’t win if not enough people vote for you. And telling them to vote for the most electable candidate didn’t work in 2022. Morse, 2020 nominee Matt Mowers, and Keene Mayor George Hansel all ran hard on, “If you vote for the other guy, he’ll get creamed in November.”
In all three cases, GOP primary voters chose the “other guy.”
There were millions of dollars in TV ads making the “electable candidate” case and, in the end, the voters just didn’t care. Maybe it was because many of those Republican voters did what they were told and voted for the “winnable” nominees in 2008 and 2012 — Sen. John McCain and Gov. Mitt Romney. Neither of them liked the GOP base very much and neither of them won.
In 2016 those disgruntled GOP primary voters backed bold, brash Donald Trump — and won. Despite polls and pundits saying Trump’s campaign would be a disaster, he got the “W.” So why should these voters who backed Trump when he “couldn’t win” in 2016, now back a moderate who doesn’t connect with them because some poll (which they also don’t trust) says they have a better shot at winning?
A passionate, engaged candidate people actually want to vote for is better than a boring, forgettable candidate people are supposed to vote for.