The 2022 primary season is poised to go out with a bang, as voters in New Hampshire and Rhode Island decide a series of fiercely contested races that could play a major role in deciding control of the House and Senate next year.
Over more than six months, voters around the country have set the stakes for November’s general election – a series of contests that will decide control at nearly every level of government beneath the presidency. Democrats are defending narrow majorities on Capitol Hill and hard-won state executive seats across the country, while Republicans are trying to wrest back control of Congress and put a halt on President Joe Biden’s agenda. The GOP is also positioned to elect a slate of 2020 election denier to key posts in the states and potentially the House and Senate.
On Tuesday, Granite State Republicans are hoping to flip key Democratic-held Senate and House seats, but – as has been a theme throughout the year – could see those ambitions dimmed if candidates the party views as more viable in a general election are not the pick of primary voters more closely aligned with former President Donald Trump’s politics.
In Rhode Island, the action is largely centered around the governor’s race. Gov. Dan McKee is seeking a first full term after taking over from Gina Raimondo, who left the office to join the Biden administration last year. He faces two or three legitimate contenders.
There will also be an open seat to fill in the state’s 2nd Congressional District, following Rep. Jim Langevin’s announcement that he will retire at the end of this term. The winner of the primary could face a competitive race in the fall.
Delaware will also vote on Tuesday, though it’s only home to one contested statewide race, the Democratic primary for auditor. The House primaries were canceled, with Democratic Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester set to face Republican Lee Murphy in a rematch of their 2020 general election clash.
Here are four things to watch on the final primary day of 2022:
Republicans sweat the NH GOP Senate primary
It’s been a tough few months for Republicans seeking to control the Senate in January. And Tuesday’s primary could represent the coup de grace.
Many Republicans are worried that Don Bolduc, a retired Army brigadier general who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2020, could win Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary, setting off a frantic burst of outside spending from Republicans looking to boost Chuck Morse, the state Senate president and establishment favorite.
Bolduc has shown little ability to raise money – he had pulled in less than $600,000 by August 24, compared to Hassan’s $31.4 million – and has a propensity to speak provocatively, with even Republican operatives who know him well describing him as a “loose cannon.”
“He’s not a serious candidate. He’s really not,” popular Republican Gov. Chris Sununu told WGIR in August. “If he were the nominee, I have no doubt we would have a much harder time trying to win that seat back. So, I don’t take him seriously as a candidate. I don’t think most people do.”
To help Morse, Sununu endorsed Morse days before the primary and recently spoke with Trump, urging him to get into the race. Trump has yet to endorse, but some Republicans in the state were worried he would back Bolduc.
An August Granite State Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire found Bolduc ahead of Morse by 21 percentage points among likely GOP primary voters.
Swing seat Dems await opponents in both New Hampshire House districts
In the Republican primary in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, voters will decide whether mimicking Trump’s style is more effective than running on his policies.
Republicans Matt Mowers and Karoline Leavitt are the frontrunners in the primary. Both worked for Trump – Mowers on his 2016 campaign and in the State Department, and Leavitt in the White House press shop – and both are fully running on board with the former President’s agenda.
But where Mowers is more careful and measured, Leavitt has largely mimicked the abrasiveness and aggression that defined Trump’s political style.
While Mowers said during a recent debate that he had “confidence in New Hampshire elections,” Leavitt pushed Trump’s election lies, claiming the “2020 election was undoubtedly stolen from President Trump.” And when the debate moderators asked whether they would vote to impeach Biden, Mowers called for hearings on the matter, where Leavitt unequivocally said yes.
Polling in late August found Mowers at 26% and Leavitt at 24%, within the survey’s margin of error. A significant 26% chunk of likely Republican primary voters were undecided in the race. The differences could matter, though. The duo is vying to take on Democrat Chris Pappas, one of the most vulnerable House Democrats in the country.
In the state’s other House district, which is slightly more friendly to Democrats, Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster is running for a sixth term. She will likely face either Keene Mayor George Hansel or former Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns, the leading contenders in a crowded GOP field.
Burns is the more conservative of the pair (Hansel describes himself as “pro-choice”), which prompted a Democratic outside group to spend on ads ostensibly attacking him – but were really designed to raise his profile with Republicans. The district is widely regarded as a toss-up for now, but that could change with Tuesday’s results.
Rhode Island’s new governor gets first test at the ballot
McKee took office last year during his second term as lieutenant governor following Raimondo’s departure to serve as President Joe Biden’s commerce secretary.
Running for a first full term in the top job, McKee faces a handful of Democratic challengers, including Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea; former CVS Health executive Helena Foulkes; former Secretary of State Matt Brown, who leads a slate of progressive candidates up and down the ballot aimed at ousting establishment leaders; and Luis Daniel Muñoz, a physician.
McKee is considered a marginal frontrunner, with Gorbea the most likely to overtake him. The incumbent’s main weakness could be an ongoing federal probe into a contract awarded by the state to a consulting firm with connections to a McKee ally. (The governor has denied any impropriety.)
Both McKee and Gorbea have been outraised by Foulkes, who bolstered her account by putting more than $1 million of her own money into the campaign, and in one ad promoting her education policies, promised not to seek reelection “if our kids aren’t back on track by the end of my term.”
Gorbea, who is Puerto Rican, was the first Latina to win statewide office and would make history again if she were elected governor. The winner of the primary, no matter who emerges, will be a clear favorite over the Republican nominee.
Rhode Island Democrats pick their candidate for open House race
Langevin’s decision to retire from the 2nd District seat, which covers the western half of the state, at the end of his 11th term set off a bustling primary to face presumptive Republican nominee Allan Fung, the former mayor of Cranston, who is running unopposed.
Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner is the favorite in the Democratic contest heading into election day. He dropped a gubernatorial bid to run for the House seat, has Langevin’s endorsement and leads the field in fundraising.
Former state Rep. David Segal is the leading progressive in the race, and has generally polled second in tandem with Sarah Morgenthau, who served in both the Obama and Biden administrations. She has argued that, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s overturning Roe v. Wade, the time has come for the state to elect its first Democratic woman to Congress.
But Morgenthau isn’t the only woman in the primary. Joy Fox, a former aide to Langevin and Raimondo, has touted her time working with the former governor.
The winner will be favored in a district that Biden won in 2020. It is still more competitive than the 1st, where Democratic Rep. David Cicilline will be a heavy favorite over Republican Allen Waters, with both unopposed in the primary.