If the latest polls and punditry are on point, then there won’t be many surprises in the New Hampshire primaries on Tuesday. Gov. Chris Sununu will handily defeat his far-right challengers. Gen. Don Bolduc will be the U.S. Senate nominee. And Bob Burns will walk away with the NH-02 GOP nomination.
The contest with the most uncertainty is NH-01, where 2020 nominee Matt Mowers is viewed as a slight favorite in a tight race against newcomer Karoline Leavitt.
But whether it is a long night filled will down-to-the-wire races or an early night of big margin wins, Granite State political pros and pundits will be watching the results for more than just the win-loss records. Primary elections contain data about how people feel about the nation, about life in their communities, and about the direction of their party. They can also offer a glimpse into the election that really counts in November.
So, what will New Hampshire politicos have their eye on Tuesday night?
UNH political science professor Dante Scala is using geography as his guide. “What I’m watching Tuesday night are the results from Bedford because it’s a large, Republican town where no major candidate has a ‘home field’ advantage.”
Veteran GOP strategist Tom Rath said he wants to see “if embracing Trump is enough to win a GOP primary. If so, we’ll see that at work in the NH-01 primary with Karoline Leavitt.
“And what do Concord and parts west do? It feels like this race has been all Manchester East. The vote west of Concord has tended to be more moderate. If they vote, that’s probably a good sign for state Sen. Chuck Morse and Keene Mayor George Hansel.”
Alicia Preston Xanathopoulos, who has worked on campaigns and in the media, says she will be tracking the turnout numbers, particularly among independents.
“If independents turnout, and that’s a big “if,” it’s a sign that gas and grocery prices, inflation, etc. are truly affecting the mood of the electorate and bodes well for Republicans in November — depending on the nominee, of course.”
Xanathopoulos says some factors may depress independent turnout — “negative ads can certainly keep people home — but she said she believes “independents are displeased with the current state of the economy.” If they do show up in significant numbers “that’s good news for Morse and [NH-01 Republican] Matt Mowers.”
One interesting question that will be answered is who makes up the GOP primary electorate. Yes, Republicans still love Trump. According to GOP pollster Robert Cahaly, support for Trump in New Hampshire has gone up since the Mar-a-Lago raid.
But how many (as President Joe Biden might call them) “Trumpies” will show up to vote in a midterm primary with Trump out of office? While the drama surrounding Trump and the FBI may spark a bit of pro-Trump backlash, it is likely the Republicans who turn out on Tuesday will be the Republicans who nearly always turn out, the true voting base of the party.
The question is whether that base has become “Trumpies,” or if they’re just Republicans who still like Trump but have other priorities in the primary, too. As one GOP observer put it, “We’ll find out if the base of the party is ‘Trumpies who take recreational Ivermectin’ or ‘Republicans who are typical Republicans, but like Trump so much they’re willing to overlook the Ivermectin talk.'”
Cahaly, considered by many to be the most accurate tracker of GOP voter sentiment, says to look out for what pollsters call “low propensity voters,” those who vote in elections just once or twice a decade. He tells NHJournal they have been showing up in GOP primaries this cycle “and they love Donald Trump.”
In Pennsylvania, for example, where Trump’s endorsement gave Dr. Mehmet Oz the narrowest of victories in the GOP U.S. Senate primary, more than 70 percent of “one for fours” — voters who turned out in just one of the previous four elections — backed Oz. If Republican candidates can get those voters to turn out in November, “I feel very optimistic for the GOP,” Cahaly said.
“Look at the undecideds in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and New Hampshire. Joe Biden is very unpopular among the undecideds. The David McCormick voters [Oz’s opponent in the Pennsylvania primary] aren’t happy with Oz right now, but there’s no way they vote for [Democrat] John Fetterman. Georgia Republicans may have questions about Herschel Walker, but they aren’t voting for [Democrat] Sen. Raphael Warnock.
“And in New Hampshire, no matter who the nominee is, these Republican voters are going to come home in November.”
GOP strategist Patrick Griffin is not as optimistic.
“I’m watching to see if this election for Republicans is about casting another protest vote for Trump, or saving the country from out-of-touch liberal radicals? This race will tell us a whole lot about the future of the GOP and more importantly about the survival of conservative ideals and policies that are critical to the future of our country.
“New Hampshire voters and Republicans across the country should remember Ronald Reagan’s famous line on their way into the voting booth: “The fellow who agrees with me 80 percent of the time is not my enemy.”
And finally, Matthew Bartlett of Darbyfield Advisors said he is watching for how things end: The concession speech.
“Every candidate is prepared to win, but no one knows if they are prepared to lose,” Bartlett said.
“Yes, Tuesday is about who wins the primaries. But all three major NHGOP races have been incredibly hard fought, some to the point of scorched earth, risking hurt feelings. After the barnburner 2010 NHGOP primaries, there were no questions about party unity and the NHGOP went on to win a U.S. Senate seat and both U.S. House seats.
“But in several New Hampshire races in the decade since there seemed to be continuing tribal disputes after the primaries with little time to heal in time for a general election that is only two months away. In politics, it is natural for both parties to have factions and friction, but Granite State Democrats manage to stay unified,” Bartlett said.
“If the New Hampshire Republicans want to win more than just primaries they will need to unify quickly – and the onus will be on both the winners, and those who didn’t win, to do so.”