MANCHESTER, N.H. — Two congressional candidates endorsed by President Donald Trump won their New Hampshire primary elections Tuesday, suggesting that Republicans are willing to follow the president in a critical swing state that he lost by fewer than 2,800 votes in 2016.
In the state’s first congressional district, Matt Mowers, a 31-year-old who ran Chris Christie’s 2016 New Hampshire campaign and worked as chief of staff to Dr. Deborah Birx, was declared the winner. He had a lead of 61% to 26% over his rival, businessman Matt Mayberry.
And Corky Messner, an independently wealthy West Point graduate running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Jeanne Shaheen defeated Brigadier General Don Bolduc.
In the primary race for governor, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes won a close race against attorney Andru Volinsky and will take on Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who is seeking a third term. The gubernatorial race wasn’t called until late Wednesday morning.
The first district race was being closely watched because it’s in 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 the incumbent, Democrat Chris Pappas.
The district includes the gritty working-class city of Manchester as well as the seacoast and some rural areas.
In addition to Trump, Mowers was endorsed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, while Mayberry was endorsed by former New Hampshire Senator John Sununu and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
Messner largely self-funded his Senate campaign, contributing some $3.8 million of his own funds so far. Although he was buoyed by Trump’s endorsement, he was also attacked as a “carpetbagger” because he only recently moved to New Hampshire.
Messner has also been the subject of scandal. In November 2006 his ex-wife filed an emergency court petition to have him removed from their Colorado home, claiming that she feared violence. And a former chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court has requested a criminal investigation into a charitable foundation that Messner ran, citing allegations that it claimed to help low-income college students but awarded just one scholarship in its first 10 years.
Messner’s campaign said the program didn’t formally begin operating until 2016 and a second scholarship was recently awarded.
Bolduc ran to Messner’s right, including airing an ad that consisted almost entirely of him declaring “I didn’t spend my life defending this country to let a bunch of liberal socialist pansies squander it away.”
On screen, the ad described Bolduc as “American Patriot. Hero. Bad*ss.”
In the gubernatorial race, Feltes is a relatively centrist Democrat who was challenged from the left. Volinksy “is from the Bernie Sanders wing of the party,” said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.
Volinsky raised eyebrows during the campaign by suggesting that he might approve a sales tax or an income tax on wages. New Hampshire is one of only two states in the country that has neither (the other is Alaska).
No successful Democratic primary candidate in about 20 years has endorsed such a broad-based tax in the state.
Feltes will have an uphill battle against the popular Sununu. In a recent poll, 76% of likely voters said they approved of Sununu’s handling of the pandemic, including 63% of Democrats.
On the Republican side, Sununu easily defeated a primary challenge from Karen Testerman, a libertarian radio talk show host.
New Hampshire has a “semi-closed” primary in that voters who are registered to one party can only vote in that party’s balloting but independent voters can vote for either side.
Everyone in the state was eligible to vote by mail this year due to a pandemic-related order signed by Sununu.