Former state Senate President Chuck Morse, a GOP candidate for governor, told WFEA radio’s Drew Cline on Tuesday to “stay tuned” for his endorsement in the First in the Nation Republican presidential primary.
“I’m going to make it clear where I stand,” Morse said.
Now, multiple sources have confirmed to NHJournal that Morse will be standing next to former President Donald Trump on Saturday, endorsing him during a rally at the University of New Hampshire.
All of the sources requested to comment on background because they are not authorized to speak for either the Morse or Trump campaigns.
“It’s happening,” one of the sources said.
The conservative, low-key Republican’s decision to enter the contested presidential primary is somewhat surprising, GOP insiders said. But once Morse announced he was going to endorse, backing Trump was the obvious choice.
“Chuck has been a regular at Trump’s campaign events, and he’s gotten a few shout-outs from Trump,” one Republican said. “The question is whether Trump will return the favor.”
If he does, it won’t be on Saturday, sources said. The rally at the Whittemore Center Arena is all about Trump. Nevertheless, Morse’s endorsement will likely have less of an impact on the First in the Nation primary than it will on his race for governor against fellow Republican, former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
“I’m pumped,” one Morse supporter said when told the news.
Ayotte is widely viewed as the frontrunner in the GOP gubernatorial primary — a June 2023 NHJournal poll gave her a 69-22 percent margin over Morse. And she just raised a record $2.7 million in her most recent campaign filing. That’s nearly three times Morse’s take.
The decision to get involved in another candidate’s primary while running in one of his own is inherently risky, but Morse backers said they like it. One reason is that it hits Ayotte on one of her biggest weaknesses in the primary, her troubled relationship with Trump in the past.
During Trump’s 2016 race against Hillary Clinton, Ayotte — who was running for re-election — withdrew her endorsement of him in response to reports of the GOP nominee’s alleged inappropriate touching of multiple women.
“I made the decision I made as a matter of principle,” Ayotte said at the time. “That’s more important to me than winning an election.”
Ayotte lost by fewer than 1,200 votes, and most Granite State campaign professionals believe her decision to abandon Trump was a key reason.
“I think it’s smart for Morse to endorse Trump because Trump is going to win New Hampshire — big,” one GOP insider said. “And Trump diehards are tribal. This will remind the Trump base that Kelly was anti-Trump.
“And when Ayotte doesn’t endorse Trump in the primary, it will tell the base she is still anti-Trump,” the source added.
One Republican backing Ayotte reminded NHJournal that Morse endorsed Jeb Bush in 2016 and dismissed Morse’s decision as “a desperate and inauthentic move.”
“How do you go from being Jeb Bush’s co-chair to endorsing Trump? Chuck is a classic ‘establishment’ candidate, and the Trump supporters will see right through this.”
Morse backers point out there are plenty of Granite State Republicans who backed Bush or Sens. Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz who are now on board with Trump.
“This is a great way for Morse to jam Ayotte at a time when she’s trying to use her fundraising numbers to shut down the primary,” another Republican insider told NHJournal. “He’s reminding GOP primary voters about the rift between Ayotte and Trump that probably kept both of them from winning New Hampshire in 2016. This is a low-risk way to shake up the race.”
And Morse worked hard to get Trump’s endorsement during his 2022 bid for U.S. Senate, but Trump stayed out of the primary. He did eventually endorse the ultimate nominee, retired Gen. Don Bolduc, who would go on to lose the general election to incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan (D).
Trump referenced the 2022 race during his remarks at the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women’s Lilac Luncheon fundraiser in June. Noting Morse was in the crowd, Trump said, “Good man, great guy, I wish I had endorsed you” Trump said.
“He says, ‘Me too.’”
Morse’s move may also draw away some of the media currently focused on Gov. Chris Sununu’s high-profile endorsement of Nikki Haley, which would please Trump. It’s no secret that Trump is no fan of Sununu, and the New Hampshire governor has been openly lobbying for a year for his party to dump Trump.
A member of the Morse campaign team declined to comment when contacted by NHJournal late Thursday night.
“It’s a gutsy move given Sununu’s support for Haley,” the Morse supporter told NHJournal. “But Morse needs to shake up the race. And besides, how else could Chuck Morse make news in the middle of the [FITN] primary?”
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story said Trump endorsed in the 2022 U.S. Senate GOP primary. He didn’t endorse until the general election. We regret the error.