From U.S. Senate nominee to state party second fiddle?

One month ago, polls and pundits predicted retired Gen. Don Bolduc was within striking distance of defeating incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan. Instead, Bolduc lost by nine points and became the poster boy for Trump-endorsed candidates who underperformed across the country.

On Monday, Bolduc announced his candidacy to become the New Hampshire Republican Party’s vice chairman. The current vice chair, Pamela Tucker announced last week she was not running for re-election.

“I was humbled by the outpouring of support during my Senate run and the encouragement of the grassroots to stay involved in the political process,” Bolduc said in his announcement. He also touted the fact he “visited every town and city in New Hampshire and held over 85 public town halls” during his campaign.

Granite State Republican insiders and activists who spoke on background to NHJournal were unimpressed.

“It’s the classic move of a guy who doesn’t know what to do next,” one GOP pro said. “The kitty litter folks will love him.”

Another GOP activist added, “He went to every town and had a million town halls — and he lost. Who the hell says, ‘Hey, I just got my a** kicked, put me in charge!'”

And, some Republicans pointed out, one reason Bolduc ran a grassroots campaign was because of his inability to raise money — a key part of the party leadership’s job. Hassan outraised him by a nearly 20-to-1 margin.

“He can’t fundraise, he doesn’t know how to run a campaign, he has no understanding of voter contact, he has no message discipline. He has none of the qualities that would make him right for this job,” one GOP campaign veteran said.

Outgoing NHGOP Chairman Stephen Stepanek is openly critical of Bolduc’s bid. “I don’t believe Don Bolduc can bring people together,” he told the Union Leader. “The party leaders have to be able to work with all factions, and I see General Bolduc as alienating a lot of people.”

In his announcement, Bolduc said the GOP needs to “counter the misconceptions peddled by the other side,” a statement some Granite State found ironic.

Bolduc did spend most of his campaign supporting Trump’s debunked conspiracy theories about Democrats stealing the 2020 election before attempting to completely reverse his position after winning the primary. And he did spread a bizarre, and untrue, story about “furries and fuzzies” at Pinkerton Academy “licking each other” and using litter boxes.

But mostly, GOP activists said, he lost — badly. And hurt the GOP brand along the way. Bolduc received 75,000 fewer votes than fellow Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, losing to Hassan by nine points.

Supporters say Bolduc was the victim of a Democratic smear campaign, fueled by millions of dollars. And it is true Hassan outraised him $38 million to $2.2 million. But to critics that highlights his weakness as a party leader.

The final decision will be made by the 505 members of the state committee, and some of them were enthusiastic Bolduc backers.

But to Republicans involved in Granite State politics on a daily basis, the verdict on Bolduc is that if the GOP’s problem is that it’s broke and perceived as too extreme, it’s hard to see how Don Bolduc is the solution.

“Don Bolduc did a great job getting through the primary, but he had no organization, no money, no real ground game, and he said some crazy things,” Stepanek said.