MANCHESTER, N.H. — After a fierce campaign that mirrored the nation’s polarized politics, Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan won reelection Tuesday against Don Bolduc, a Republican and former Army brigadier general who had been an election denier.
Hassan won a second term by a fairly comfortable margin – nearly 10 points with 91 percent of the vote tallied on Wednesday afternoon – despite last-minute hand-wringing by Democrats over some late polls that showed the race tightening.
At Hassan’s watch party in Manchester, a raucous crowd broke out in screams, pumping their fists in the air as they watched national news outlets call the race for the former governor. “Maggie! Maggie! Maggie!” they cheered, hugging one another and raising glasses in the air.
Hassan took the stage to the rapturous cheers of supporters at the Puritan Backroom in Manchester, who chanted “six more years.” In a victory speech, she focused on unity and bipartisanship.
“Here in New Hampshire, Granite Staters put aside partisanship, and we work together every day to solve problems,” she said.
In another closely watched race, Representative Chris Pappas, an incumbent Democrat in the First District, told exuberant supporters near midnight that he had received a concession call from Karoline Leavitt, a former election denier and White House aide to Donald Trump.
The AP called the race for Pappas early Wednesday morning, and he led Leavitt 54 percent to 46 percent on Wednesday afternoon.
Democratic Representative Ann Kuster also held a commanding lead in her bid for a sixth term, according to the AP. Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican who had endorsed Bolduc and Leavitt, easily won reelection.
Bolduc and Leavitt, who also had been endorsed by Trump, waged hard-hitting campaigns that turned this traditionally moderate state into a battleground of stark ideological differences. With control of both chambers of Congress in play, New Hampshire officials expected record turnout to help determine whether Democrats would be ousted from power in the House, the Senate, or both.
The two Republicans initially were shunned by party power brokers as potentially being too extreme for this purple state. That the races appeared close heading into Election Day — against two Democrats considered to be moderates — made New Hampshire a surprisingly bellicose symbol of the country’s divisions.
Hassan, like many other Democrats nationally, focused relentlessly on protecting abortion rights after the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, while Bolduc hammered Hassan on inflation.
““Definitely as a woman I’m concerned about the abortion issue, and as a mom I’m concerned about the inflation issue,” Amanda Lemke, 36, said as she carried her one-year-old in her arms at a polling location. But in the end, Bolduc’s antiabortion stance was the deciding factor for her even if she wasn’t thrilled about Hassan.
“It was a vote against Bolduc,” she said.
Six years ago, Hassan won by 1,017 votes, and wary Democrats cautioned that the margin might be razor-thin again as they tried to fend off a rising Republican tide fueled by concerns about inflation and the economy.
At a polling station in Derry, Sharon Hilfiker, a 70-year-old nurse, said she had often split her ticket, but that this year she voted “100 percent Republican.”
“I’ve had to continue working because my 401(k) has taken a nose dive, the cost of food, the cost of everything,” said Hilfiker, who listed her top issues as crime, inflation, and security at the southern border.
Bolduc’s late surge showed just how potent those concerns had become, even if he was not the candidate preferred by the Republican establishment.
Sununu said earlier this year that Bolduc was “not a serious candidate,” and other Republicans spent millions boosting his more traditional primary opponent, Chuck Morse.
Bolduc said repeatedly during the primary campaign that Trump won the 2020 election, but he changed that stance after he became the Republican nominee in the general election. Since then, he spread the widely debunked theory that some New Hampshire school districts were providing litter boxes for students who identify as cats.
Although he was endorsed by Sununu, Bolduc previously had called him a “communist Chinese sympathizer” and claimed that the governor’s family business “supports terrorism.”
In Derry, teacher Randy Calhoun, 64, said he used to vote for Republicans, but that he won’t anymore due to what he sees as an extremist drift in the party.
“The kind of candidates that the Republicans are putting up, the conspiracy theories” is the biggest concern, Calhoun said. In the 2008 presidential election, for example, he voted for Republican John McCain. “He was a different breed,” Calhoun said.
Mike Maloof, 67, of Derry, said the economy was his greatest concern. Although Maloof said he is unsure if Democrats are to blame, he voted for Bolduc regardless.
“Bolduc seemed to want to take the politician out of the politics,” he said. “I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Karoline [Leavitt]. She seemed too extreme.”
Leavitt, 25, said during the campaign that she now accepts that Biden won because the vote had been certified. Although she once disparaged the election results — a red flag for many moderate voters — some observers wondered whether that would matter for those more concerned with inflation, immigration, and crime.
If elected, Leavitt would have been the youngest women ever to serve in Congress.
Pappas, whose family has owned a Manchester restaurant for 105 years, stressed his willingness to reach across the aisle, citing common ground with Republicans on legislation such as the massive infrastructure bill passed under Biden.
Looming over the nuts-and-bolts issues had been lingering questions about Leavitt’s connection to the Trump agenda, and whether that hurt or helped her. She had said she would reexamine Social Security, supported the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and argued that porous border security had led to dramatic increases in fentanyl overdose deaths.
Trump endorsed her by writing that “Karoline Leavitt is fantastic. Vote for her and win. She has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
In the sprint to the finish, nationally known Democrats poured into New Hampshire, among them Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and Assistant House Speaker Katherine Clark of Massachusetts.
They brought the party’s message that Hassan and Pappas need to be reelected to fight for abortion rights and help a Democrat-led Congress stem inflation and lower the cost of living.
As the clock ticked past midnight and it became clear Hassan and Pappas would prevail, the mood turned from the cautious optimism of the day before to celebration.
“Ecstatic,” said Cristi Egenolf, 51, at Hassan and Pappas’ headquarters on the outskirts of Manchester early Wednesday. “Elated,” added Daniel Waszkowski, 55, standing next to her.
“And relieved,” Egenolf said with a tired laugh.