MANCHESTER, N.H. (CN) — Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire — which could lead to the first Congressional election in U.S. history between two openly gay candidates — will also be an early test of President Donald Trump’s strength in a swing state that could be critical in November.
Trump has endorsed two non-incumbent candidates in races for Congress, both of whom have been criticized as “carpetbaggers” without long ties to the state. Tuesday’s results could indicate whether Granite State Republicans are falling in lockstep behind the president or will exhibit their famous independent streak.
The battle in the state’s 1st Congressional District is being closely watched because it’s one of the swingiest districts in the country, having changed hands four times between Democrats and Republicans from 2010 to 2016. Trump narrowly carried it in 2016 but two years later it elected its current Democratic Representative Chris Pappas.
In the Republican primary to challenge Pappas, Trump endorsed Matt Mowers, a 31-year-old from New Jersey who ran Chris Christie’s 2016 New Hampshire campaign. Mowers was later appointed by Trump as a senior White House adviser and worked as chief of staff to Dr. Deborah Birx.
Despite Mowers’ role as a senior adviser, Trump mispronounced his name while endorsing him.
Mowers is running against Matt Mayberry, an Air Force veteran and businessman who claims to be more in touch with the district, which includes gritty Manchester as well as the seacoast and some rural areas.
“I’m the New Hampshire candidate,” Mayberry said. “I’ve been to all 239 towns and cities … I am Market Basket and Walmart, and my opponent is Whole Foods and Starbucks.”
A poll in August showed Mowers ahead 23% to 12% with well over half the Republican electorate still undecided.
Like Pappas, Mayberry is openly gay.
“It would be the first time in American history that both candidates for major office are gay,” he said. Mayberry would also be Congress’s first openly gay Republican.
Mowers leads in the money race, having raised almost $700,000 as of Aug. 19 with almost $375,000 in cash on hand. Mayberry raised less than $175,000 and had less than $22,000 on hand, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Mowers has also been endorsed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, while Mayberry was endorsed by former New Hampshire Senator John Sununu and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
In the U.S. Senate primary, Trump endorsed Corky Messner, an independently wealthy West Point graduate who is anti-abortion rights and pro-gun and supports border security and free-market health care.
But Messner, if anything, is the moderate in the race. His opponent, Brigadier General Donald Bolduc, recently ran an ad consisting almost entirely of him saying "I didn't spend my life defending this country to let a bunch of liberal socialist pansies squander it away."
On screen, the ad describes Bolduc as “American Patriot. Hero. Bad*ss.”
Addressing the pandemic, Bolduc told a reporter, “I am unapologetically of the opinion that the masks cause more problems than they solve.”
The current senator, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, has a large lead over both candidates, polls show.
Messner has far more money than Bolduc, but that’s because he contributed more than $3.8 million of his own funds to his campaign. Bolduc has raised more money than Messner through individual contributions.
Pulling in a lot of small donations “is often an indication of organizational strength that doesn’t show up in polling,” noted Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. Although Messner is ahead in the polls, “I wouldn’t be shocked if Bolduc won,” Smith said.