The primary season, which began with the death rattle of the Bush political dynasty in Texas, ended with President Joe Biden jetting back to Wilmington on Air Force One to cast his ballot less than an hour before polls closed.
Yet while Biden was voting in a relatively uneventful election in Delaware (the most interesting race on the ballot featured an incumbent state auditor who had recently been found guilty of corruption and consequently lost 70-30), the results were already being tabulated to the north in New Hampshire in primaries that could determine control of Congress in November and the shape of politics on Capitol Hill afterward.
Here are three winners and one loser from Tuesday’s races.
Winner: National Democrats
National Democrats pushed weak Republican candidates over the finish line both in a congressional race and in the New Hampshire GOP Senate primary. Don Bolduc — a retired Army brigadier general who believes Donald Trump won the 2020 election, said that the election was rigged in New Hampshire, and has made false claims about Covid vaccines — pulled off a victory over state senate president Chuck Morse in a split field. Morse conceded early Wednesday.
This happened even though Morse had been propped up by over $4 million in outside spending from a super PAC that will not need to disclose its donors until after the election. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) derided Bolduc as a conspiracy theorist and vocally backed Morse. In contrast, a Democratic super PAC, the Senate Majority PAC, spent $3.8 million bashing Morse as “the candidate of Mitch McConnell’s Washington establishment” to damage him among Republicans. Bolduc only spent about $100,000 on television ads.
New Hampshire has been expected to be one of the closest Senate races in the country. Incumbent Maggie Hassan won the Granite State by 1,017 votes in 2016 and was considered vulnerable in the midterms as a swing state senator in a year when Republicans were favored. Democrats think her odds of beating the extreme Bolduc are much better than if a less extreme candidate had won.
Maggie Hassan may be the luckiest Dem out there this cycle. Started off likely to face Sununu, now she’ll go up against Bolduc instead. Wouldn’t be shocked to see some R ad reservations move to help other places like AZ & OH
— Jessica Taylor (@JessicaTaylor) September 14, 2022
National Democrats also appear to have gotten lucky in New Hampshire’s Second District GOP primary, where Bob Burns, the former Hillsborough County treasurer, leads George Hansel, the mayor of Keene. Over $600,000 in outside Democratic money was spent to boost Burns as “an ultraconservative candidate” against Hansel, the comparatively moderate mayor of a college town. In contrast, Burns had raised less than $200,000 for his entire campaign.
The district, represented by two-term incumbent Democrat Ann McLane Kuster, leans Democrat. Biden won it 54-45 in 2020. Burns’s likely win makes the district even more of a reach for national Republicans.
Loser: Kevin McCarthy
The Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), a super PAC aligned with the House minority leader, spent $1.8 million in New Hampshire’s First Congressional District to boost Matt Mowers, a veteran political operative who had been the GOP nominee in that swing district in 2020. Mowers lost. Instead, Karoline Leavitt, a 25-year-old who would be the youngest female member of Congress in history, won. Leavitt has recently refused to say whether she’d vote for McCarthy for speaker and made false claims about the 2020 election.
The district, represented by two-term incumbent Chris Pappas, is considered a toss-up in November. And while Leavitt’s rhetoric may create headaches for McCarthy if she is elected, it is not likely to be as significant a political obstacle in a congressional district that Trump won in 2016. One Democrat familiar with the race told Vox that while polling showed Mowers as a stronger general candidate than Leavitt, it was not a substantial edge.
Winner: Elise Stefanik
Leavitt’s win wasn’t bad news for everyone in House leadership. Elise Stefanik, the House GOP conference chair, had vigorously backed Leavitt, her former staffer.
Leavitt’s victory came the same night Stefanik said she would seek to retain her position, which she won earlier this year after Liz Cheney (R-WY) was ousted from it for criticizing Donald Trump.
It’s also the same day she picked up a challenger: It was reported that Byron Donalds, a first-term conservative from Florida, would seek Stefanik’s current position in the next Congress. It will be even harder to knock her off if the list of her endorsees headed to Congress grows.
Winner: Incumbent governors
Outside of New Hampshire, Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee managed to narrowly win the Democratic primary against a split field that included Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and former CVS CEO Helena Foulkes.
McKee was elevated to the governor’s mansion last year after incumbent Gina Raimondo became commerce secretary in the Biden administration. His win meant that for the first time in 20 years, not a single incumbent governor lost their bid for their party’s nomination this primary season. The success of incumbent governors in primaries stands in contrast to congressional races this year, where 14 sitting members of Congress have lost their primaries.