“That’s a bold strategy, Cotton, let’s see if it pays off.”

That was the response from Greg Moore, the state director for Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire, when asked about Joyce Craig’s embrace of Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey in her race for Granite State governor.

(Unfamiliar with the reference? Click here.)

Craig, the former mayor of Manchester, is facing off against Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Thus far her campaign has focused on endorsements and establishment support rather than events and retail politics. For example, Craig is skipping out on an NFIB event Thursday morning the other three major candidates are expected to attend.

“While having Healey may be beneficial, what’s more important is having a message,” Moore told NHJournal. “And if you’re not willing to have a message that works, then people will be spending their time talking about Maura (Healey), and that’s the bigger problem for Craig.”

But the former mayor is sticking to her “establishment frontrunner” script.

Earlier this week, local Democrats got a text message fundraising message from Healey.

“There’s a critical governor’s race for my neighbors in New Hampshire this year, and I’m supporting Joyce Craig because she’ll deliver for her state and stand up for freedom,” Healey said. “The stakes are high.”

Veteran GOP strategist Pat Griffin, a frequent political commentator on Boston TV, says ,“The fact that Gov. Healey is playing in this race reflects how divided the New Hampshire Democratic base appears to be in this primary. The problem is, whoever wins the primary will need to tack to the middle in the general election. And Maura Healey is nowhere near the ‘middle’ in New Hampshire politics.”

Healey’s involvement also feeds the narrative of Republican candidate Kelly Ayotte, who has made “Don’t MASS Up New Hampshire”’ her slogan. According to left-leaning Boston radio station WBUR, Healey “has deflected questions” about Ayotte’s attacks and the Granite State governor’s race.

Alicia Preston, a longtime New Hampshire-based political consultant turned lobbyist, told NHJournal she doubts it “helps a Democrat to counter Ayotte’s criticism of Massachusetts by ‘owning’ the concept,” as Craig has with Healey’s endorsement.

“‘Ya, don’t hate on Mass, we love Mass!’” Preston quipped. “I don’t get the strategy, to be honest.

“If people are sensitive about negative comments on Massachusetts, they live there. The ones that moved here, well, moved here because it’s not there and probably agree with Ayotte.”

A 2023 University of New Hampshire study found just 41 percent of the population are native-born Granite Staters, while more than 25 percent of New Hampshire residents were born in Massachusetts. Almost 44 percent of people who migrated to New Hampshire between 2021 and 2022 were from Massachusetts while Maine and Vermont accounted for only a combined 8 percent.

David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, says Ayotte has math on her side.

“This is a poll-driven strategic decision by Kelly Ayotte which captures many people who left Massachusetts for the two most populated NH counties – Hillsborough and Rockingham – right over the border. Those two counties make up half the state and contain many voters who say that they could no longer take the politics, problems, and taxes in Massachusetts.”

Griffin agrees, calling Ayotte’s “NH vs. MA” theme “smart politics.”

“It juices the GOP base and motivates plenty of independents for the general,” Griffin says.

Moore isn’t so sure. He says “Massachusetts bashing” doesn’t necessarily translate into a winning message for Ayotte.

“We don’t have the type of nativism here like you see in Maine, where they describe outsiders who move in as ‘from away’ while Vermonters do the same thing by calling newcomers’ flatlanders.’ We don’t have that type of parochialism. We tend to be fairly accepting.”

Moore pointed to Republican Joe Kenney’s failed 2008 campaign for governor. Challenging popular Democrat incumbent Gov. John Lynch, Kenny deployed the campaign slogan, “Let’s Keep New Hampshire New Hampshire,” a knock on Massachusetts he believed would call attention to what he saw as Lynch’s Bay State-inspired taxpayer spending spree.

The strategy didn’t work. Kenny lost to Lynch by a whopping 27-70 percent margin.

The bigger problem for Craig, according to Moore, is that her Massachusetts surrogate isn’t exactly popular in her own state largely due to her handling of the state’s illegal migrant housing crisis.

“Even [New York City Mayor] Eric Adams has made a 180 on this issue,” Moore pointed out, referencing one prominent Democrat’s realization that a lawless approach to immigration may not be in his constituents’ best interests. “Inviting that type of criticism to Craig’s campaign for taking on someone as a surrogate who is so misaligned with the views of New Hampshire really puts her at risk.”

In March, a University of New Hampshire poll found that 83 percent of Granite Staters view illegal immigration as a serious problem facing America.

One serious problem facing Craig, according to Moore, is her primary opponent.

Warmington may be lagging behind in terms of fundraising but as Moore noted, the Concord Democrat “is everywhere.”

“She’s giving the Democratic primary voter exactly what they’re looking for,” Moore said. “Cinde’s already had television ads up and running right before people tend to tune this stuff out, which is between right about now and the end of August.

“Cinde’s already got some hay in the barn by the time Joyce will have to start buying TV ads in the middle of late July and early August.”

Meanwhile, Craig’s “run-duck-and-cover approach” to her 2024 primary campaign is not doing her any favors, pundits say. Warmington recently started hammering Craig over her inaccessibility to voters.

“The problem with having Maura as such an active surrogate is that nobody is talking about what the Craig campaign itself is doing,” Moore said. “At some point Joyce Craig will have to show up.”