As 1st Congressional District candidate Matt Mowers faces scrutiny and a review by New Hampshire’s attorney general over voting twice in the 2016 presidential primaries, the other former Trump administration official in the crowded GOP primary, Karoline Leavitt, is taking advantage of the opening in the Trump lane.
When former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie endorsed Mowers in late March, Leavitt questioned Mower’s Trump loyalties: “Does he stand with Chris Christie and the ‘Never Trump’ movement,” Leavitt told WMUR, “or does he stand with President Trump and the America First movement?”
Mowers worked on Trump’s 2016 election campaign and later served in the State Department. Leavitt worked as an assistant press secretary in the Trump White House and later as communications director for Trump loyalist, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.)
Trump endorsed Mowers in the 2020 1st District race when Mowers lost to incumbent Rep. Chris Pappas by five points. Leavitt is working hard to get Trump’s endorsement this time around. A seasoned communications expert, Leavitt knows how to ask for it: “President Trump loves winners,” she told NHJournal. “I believe I am going to win this race.”
A native of Atkinson, Leavitt told NHJournal she is the “true conservative candidate in this race” and the “homegrown candidate,” in contrast to her leading opponents, Mowers and longtime Boston TV journalist Gail Huff Brown. If she wins, Leavitt, who turns 25 shortly before Election Day, would be the youngest member of Congress. Leavitt graduated from St. Anselm College in 2019, but she sees her age as an asset.
“It’s time to shake up the system,” Leavitt told a room of roughly 30 students at her “Wake Up, Gen Z!” college tour kickoff at the University of New Hampshire last week. “Washington, D.C. on both sides of the aisle is controlled by old and corrupt people who have been down there way too long.”
The Leavitt campaign’s college event was sparsely attended for the auditorium’s size. But Leavitt commanded the room, insisting she did not need a mic because “I have a loud voice.” She spoke without notes, pacing in her jeans, black blazer, and high heels. Afterward, she mingled with students, answering questions about her opposition to vaccine mandates and climate change.
She told one student she is not vaccinated.
“My generation of voters are looking to folks like AOC,” Leavitt lamented, calling herself “the young conservative voice that we desperately need.” When asked if she could be the right’s AOC—young, attractive, and wielding influence through social media—Leavitt chuckled but did say she thinks social media is critical to attracting young people to conservative principles. She thinks it is possible to woo young voters away from progressive ideas, particularly as it becomes more difficult for residents of any age to buy a home, fill up their gas tank, or even purchase groceries.
“My generation is fed disinformation on the issues every single day by Big Tech, by social media, by the higher education system,” Leavitt told NHJournal. “I certainly would love to be the conservative voice that can really resonate with these young voters.”
According to a recent poll from the St. Anselm College Survey Center, New Hampshire voters said reducing the deficit and cutting taxes should be Congress’s top budgetary priorities. That was ahead of social spending and addressing climate change.
Leavitt calls inflation and “unmitigated spending coming out of Washington” the single most important issue facing New Hampshire residents. Second on her list is freedom from federal government intervention in schools. She says the feds are waging “a war against parents” and that she would “abolish the Department of Education tomorrow.”
Leavitt calls herself an “unapologetic conservative,” and says “the biggest mistake President Trump made was not firing Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx sooner.” Otherwise, she sees no policy differences between herself and the former president.
The “Karoline for Congress” campaign website lists a slew of boilerplate positions that align with Trump’s agenda: Strong border security, law and order, low taxes and less regulation, against critical race theory in schools, and opposing “red flag laws” for gun purchases. She is skeptical of the climate crisis and calls for increased oil drilling to make America “energy independent.”
Leavitt’s association with Trump will likely help her in the GOP primary; 84 percent of registered New Hampshire Republicans view the former president favorably, according to the same New Hampshire Institute of Politics poll. And 59 percent of registered New Hampshire voters support restarting the Keystone XL pipeline “even if it extended our country’s reliance on fossil fuels.”
But in the general election, Leavitt would need to win independents to prevail. Among undeclared voters statewide—the largest Granite State constituency—57 percent view Trump unfavorably.
Only 37 percent of registered voters think incumbent representative Chris Pappas “deserves reelection,” according to the New Hampshire Institute of Politics poll. And 68 percent of Granite State residents think the country is “on the wrong track.”
And even with President Joe Biden winning at the top of the ticket 53-45 percent, Pappas got just 51 percent of the vote against Mowers in 2020.
All of which means the GOP candidate who wins the primary has a good shot at prevailing in the general election.
The concern, analysts say, is a GOP nominee who is so close to Trump that they are unable to hold more moderate voters. They point to Glenn Youngkin’s successful race for Virginia governor as a model for Republicans in the northeast.
While Leavitt advocates for school choice, parental rights, and is adamantly against critical race theory in schools—issues Youngkin championed—she is not shying away from Trump. Leavitt stands by Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen through illegal voting and other “widespread voter irregularities.” When asked by NHJournal whether this position was too far right for the 1st District, Leavitt responded, “absolutely not.”