11 min read

Ready for the deluge? 7 debates, 4 days

Many likely GOP primary voters remain undecided, so these debates could prove hugely influential in the contests for U.S. Senate and the two congressional districts.
Ready for the deluge? 7 debates, 4 days
Photo by Jeremy Bishop / Unsplash

Labor Day made this a short work week for many, but it sure didn't make this week short on work for GOP candidates in contested primaries. With just 7 days to go before the NH state primary election, campaigns are a-hustling – especially with so many debate stages to dominate.

But there'll be more to this truncated week than debates alone. Let's get you up to speed.

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Update (Sept. 6): After announcing Monday which 17 candidates made the cut to participate in the Granite State Debates, an updated announcement Tuesday from a WMUR spokesperson indicates that just 16 of the 17 invited candidates will participate. Gov. Chris Sununu won't take part in Friday's event after all. This post has been updated accordingly.

This week's debate deluge

With a week left until the Sept. 13 state primary, many members of the voting public are just now deciding which candidates they will pick in several closely watched races. Their need to see differences among the GOP contenders for NH governor, U.S. House and U.S. Senate will surely be met this week.

Two separate debate series, both beginning Tuesday night, invited a total of 17 candidates. Sixteen will attend, according to an updated announcement released Tuesday by a WMUR spokesperson.

  • The Live Free or Die debates will run Tuesday through Thursday at New England College in Henniker, with NH Today's Chris Ryan moderating. Attending in person? You'll need tickets. A livestream will be available from iHeart and the college, organizers said.
  • The Granite State Debates will run Tuesday through Friday in Manchester at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, with WMUR's Adam Sexton moderating. The debates will be broadcast live on WMUR's TV channel, website and mobile app.

These debates could prove hugely influential for likely voters in the Republican primaries for U.S. Senate and the two congressional districts. Late last month, 20% said they still weren't sure who they'll pick in the Senate race, 26% weren't sure about their candidate of choice for NH01, and a whopping 37% were still undecided about their NH02 pick, according to the Granite State Poll conducted by the UNH Survey Center.

  • In the Senate race: Don Bolduc, a retired Army brigadier general who ran in the GOP primary in 2020(*), seems to be the frontrunner in this race. But establishment Republicans have rallied behind NH Senate President Chuck Morse, who is gaining ground and also casting himself as comfortable in Trump's wing of the party. "Count me as one of the 'MAGA Republicans' Joe Biden has decided to insult," Morse tweeted last week. The other three major candidates have polled in the single digits. (The winner will face incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan.)
  • In the NH01 race: Matt Mowers, who was the GOP nominee in 2020, has at times polled roughly even with Karoline Leavitt. Both served in the Trump administration, but Leavitt has sought to portray herself as more pro-Trump than Mowers. This could be a two-way contest, but Gail Huff Brown showed remarkable momentum in a recent poll, got a glowing Union Leader editorial and captured attention with an abortion-related ad saying she'll "protect choice." The other two major candidates have polled in the single digits. (The winner will face incumbent Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas.)
  • In the NH02 race: Bob Burns, a former Hillsborough County treasurer, is up against Keene Mayor George Hansel and Lily Tang Williams. Entities aligned with Democrats have sent TV ads and anonymous mailers touting Burns as the pro-Trump pick. Hansel got an endorsement from Sununu. Tang Williams is aligned with the Free State Project. (The winner will face incumbent Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster.)

There's hardly any uncertainty about where the GOP primary for NH governor is headed, with 72% of likely voters expressing support for incumbent Gov. Chris Sununu and just 14% saying they remain undecided, according to the Granite State Poll. Sununu isn't expected to participate in the debate with three of his GOP challengers – passing up an opportunity for him to contrast his own style with that of other factions within his party. Sununu is expected to advance to a general election faceoff with Democratic challenger Dr. Tom Sherman, a member of the NH Senate.

Here's a rundown of this week's debate calendar:

Tuesday, Sept. 6

  • 6 p.m. – Live Free or Die debate with NH02 candidates. Republican primary candidates Bob Burns, George Hansel and Lily Tang Williams will participate, organizers said. #nh02
  • 8 p.m. – Granite State debate with NH01 candidates. Republican primary candidates Matt Mowers, Karoline Leavitt, Gail Huff Brown, Tim Baxter and Russell Prescott will participate, organizers said. #nh01

Wednesday, Sept. 7  

  • 6 p.m. – Live Free or Die debate with U.S. Senate candidates. Republican primary candidates Don Bolduc, Chuck Morse, Kevin Smith, Bruce Fenton and Vikram Mansharamani will participate, organizers said. #nhsen
  • 8 p.m. – Granite State debate with NH02 candidates. Republican primary candidates Bob Burns, George Hansel and Lily Tang Williams will participate, organizers said. #nh02

Thursday, Sept. 8

  • 12 p.m. – Live Free or Die debate with NH01 candidates. Republican primary candidates Matt Mowers, Karoline Leavitt, Gail Huff Brown, Tim Baxter and Russell Prescott will participate, organizers said. #nh01
  • 8 p.m. – Granite State debate with U.S. Senate candidates. Republican primary candidates Don Bolduc, Chuck Morse, Kevin Smith, Bruce Fenton and Vikram Mansharamani will participate, organizers said. #nhsen

Friday, Sept. 9

  • 8 p.m. – Granite State debate with candidates for NH governor. Republican primary candidates Thaddeus P. Riley, Karen Testerman and Julian M. Acciard will participate, organizers said. The incumbent, Gov. Chris Sununu, won't participate, according to a WMUR spokesperson. #nhgov

Why did one debate time change? The NH01 debate in the Live Free or Die lineup had been advertised for Thursday at 6 p.m., but organizers moved the event up six hours, to 12 p.m., due to multiple scheduling conflicts. Josh McElveen, a spokesperson for the organizers, told Granite Memo the scheduling change was made due to a Derry GOP candidate forum. Also on Thursday evening, Karoline Leavitt has a Londonderry rally with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX. Matt Mowers' campaign manager, Parker Carey, said he believes scheduling conflicts on Thursday night had been an issue for multiple NH01 campaigns – not surprising, with five candidates just five days before the primary.

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Non-debate events

The NH politics calendar includes several other items of note this week.

Did you know? Granite Memo curates a calendar of noteworthy events. Check it out. 

Tuesday, Sept. 6

1 p.m. – The Special Committee on Voter Confidence, which has since May held eight public meetings around the state, will host a public meeting at Keene Public Library in Herbaton Hall, 60 Winter St. in Keene. Professors Charles Stewart III of MIT and Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth will give a presentation, followed by a public comment period. (Listen-only Zoom link)

Wednesday, Sept. 7

8 a.m. – Breakfast meeting of the governor and Executive Council at The Glen House, 979 NH Rt. 16 in Gorham.

10 a.m. – Regular meeting of the governor and Executive Council at the Sherman Adams Building, Mount Washington State Park, 1598 Mt. Washington Auto Road in Sargent's Purchase. To listen, call (603) 931-4944, with conference ID 318 941 896 #. (Meeting agenda)

Thursday, Sept. 8

6:30 p.m. – Candidates forum for U.S. House race hosted by Derry GOP at the Derry Memorial VFW Auxiliary 1617, at 18 Railroad St. (Facebook event)  

7 p.m. – Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, to stump for NH01 candidate Karoline Leavitt at a get-out-the-vote rally at American Legion Post 27, Sargent Road in Londonderry. (Eventbrite)

News you may have missed


Free Staters "seek to undo" NH government "from within." "More than 6,000 people have relocated to New Hampshire since the effort was launched 21 years ago, according to its organizers. And while some dispute that claim, legislators on both sides of the aisle in Concord agree that Free Staters have come to wield outsize political influence." (Brian MacQuarrie for The Boston Globe)

Three vying for the NH Senate seat Chuck Morse is vacating. Tw0 GOP candidates – Daryl Abbas of Salem and Peter E. Torosian of Atkinson – and one Democrat, Wayne Haubner of Salem, are running for NH Senate District 22. Abbas and Torosian are currently state reps. Torosian has sponsored legislation for NH to secede from the United States. Haubner is a tech exec and Digital Federal Credit Union board member. (Angelina Berube for The Eagle-Tribune)


Not until after the November election will the race for the 2024 presidential nomination really get underway, but early visits by Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Ted Cruz and other GOP hopefuls have been happening since early 2021. "I think the race is already on," said NH Institute of Politics executive director Neil Levesque. (Paul Steinhauser for Fox News)

Biden's student debt cancelation order unpopular among Republicans and most NH independents. In a Granite State Poll conducted Aug. 25-29 by the UNH Survey Center, 86% of Democrats in NH supported the student debt cancelation, while 88% of Republicans and 59% of independents in NH opposed it (±2.2%). (Granite State Poll)


Daily Beast article calls NH01 race "new ground zero in the MAGA civil wars." House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is backing Matt Mowers. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-NY, is backing Karoline Leavitt, her former press secretary. "The endorsements in the primary ... have largely fallen along similar lines to other MAGA proxy fights, but the demographics of the district and the involvement of House leadership give this power struggle its own flavor." (Jake Lahut for Daily Beast) #nh01

Union Leader sees reasons to pick Gail Huff Brown for NH01. With an editorial, the paper called her "a serious, level-headed woman who uses her knowledge of the issues rather than brashness to convince voters." The editorial contrasted her with GOP competitors Matt Mowers ("a modern man on the political make") and Karoline Leavitt ("barely legally old enough to serve"). "We don’t think Chris Pappas and the Democrats want to face Gail Huff Brown this November." (Union Leader)

Gail Huff Brown campaigning on "choice" when it comes to abortion. The GOP candidate for NH01 told NHJournal that she supports the NH abortion law, which bans abortion after 24 weeks, and she "will never support any public funding for abortion or for contraception." But she released a 30-second "Life Choices" ad that recounts how she chose not to terminate her pregnancy at 20 weeks despite a risk to her own life. Some GOP strategists see her emphasis on "choice" as a smart move. At least one anti-abortion group called her strategy a mistake. (Michael Graham for NHJournal)

Democrats push abortion rights to center of campaign. "In separate appearances in Concord and Manchester this week, Democrats Sen. Maggie Hassan and Rep. Chris Pappas, both of whom are facing tight re-election battles this fall, said electing Democrats is the way to ensure that abortion rights and access to health care including contraception, STD and cancer screenings, aren’t further eroded." (Josh Rogers for NHPR)

Contenders for GOP primary in NH01 trade barbs. A super PAC backing Matt Morse released an ad calling Karoline Leavitt a "woke Gen Z’er." With her own ad, Leavitt called Mowers "another swamp doormat." (Bridget Bowman and Ben Kamisar for NBC News)


The NH AG's Office is investigating four anonymous political mailers sent to NH02 voters. The mailers, which do not identify the person or entity responsible for the advertising, were produced by Reynolds DeWalt, a printing company based in Massachusetts and affiliated with Democrats. Neither the printer nor its lawyers at Elias Law Group have said who is behind the mailers. The mailers promoted Bob Burns and cast doubt on George Hansel, who are running in the GOP primary for a chance to challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Annie Kuster. (Josh Rogers for NHPR, NH AG statement, Rick Green for Keene Sentinel, Michael Graham for NHJournal)

As it happens: Extra eager to stay on top of NH politics news? Bookmark the Granite Memo cheat sheet for frequent updates


Republicans and Democrats flood NH airwaves with ads about Chuck Morse. Both sides agree frontrunner Don Bolduc would be weak in the general election. Republicans launched a $4.5 million ad spree on Thursday, then Dems began a $3.1 million TV ad blitz on Friday. By the primary, outside groups will spend far more than all of the candidates combined. (Trip Gabriel for The New York Times)

This ad spend by national Dems fits a pattern of meddling. "Democratic groups in other states ... have spent tens of millions of dollars boosting less-electable Republicans in primaries this year, often by tying them to former President Donald Trump." But the Senate Majority PAC's ad doesn't mention Don Bolduc, just Chuck Morse. (Joseph Gedeon for Politico)

Smaller ad buys from two more outside groups will boost Vikram Mansharamani and Kevin Smith in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate. Granite State Leadership Fund, which spent $353,000, will tout Mansharamani. Stand for New Hampshire, which is backing Smith, spent $84,000 on TV ads. (Bridget Bowman and Ben Kamisar for NBC News)

Critic bemoans the flood of outside cash: "Democrats have been warning about MAGA and the threat it poses to democracy. ... If you don’t like something — if you don’t want something — don’t pay for it. Don’t fund it. Don’t invite it," Jay Nordlinger wrote for National Review.

With big ad buy boost, can Chuck Morse catch up?
Some see poll numbers as a clear sign that Don Bolduc is headed for victory, but the GOP primary for U.S. Senate could still see a major shakeup.
Friday memo (Sept. 2, 2022)

A peek into the establishment GOP's strategy to beat Maggie Hassan in November: Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC aligned with Mitch McConnell, announced Friday it had purchased $23 million in ads aimed at Hassan that will start airing Sept. 13 (Azi Paybarah for The Washington Post). The move is "another sign that Republicans still believe Hassan is beatable" (Paul Steinhauser for Fox News).

Don Bolduc not sure why GOP establishment doesn't back him. In a WMUR CloseUp interview, the frontrunner shrugged off criticism from Sununu and national Republicans, arguing that his "outsider" campaign is working. When given the opportunity to distance himself from Michael Flynn – a Trump ally who pleaded the 5th Amendment rather than saying whether he supports the peaceful transition of power – Bolduc didn't take the chance: "I am for a peaceful process. ... General Flynn and I served in combat together, and I consider him an admirable man. He's entitled to his comments." (Adam Sexton for WMUR)

Chuck Morse argues FBI's Mar-a-Lago search was a symptom of politicization. In a WMUR CloseUp interview, Adam Sexton pressed Morse on the core question: "Should former President Trump have given the documents back when the government asked for them?" Morse replied: "I'm sure there's legal things in here where President Trump should be working with the FBI to give documents, but let's be honest, Adam, what happened that day was politicizing the process, and I don't believe in that." Morse said calls to dismantle the FBI go too far. What's needed is an investigation of FBI leadership, he said. (Adam Sexton for WMUR)

Chuck Morse changes his mind on federal abortion restrictions. "In January, he told News 9 he would support a version of New Hampshire's 24-week abortion ban in the U.S. Senate. Now, he considers abortion to be a state issue." (Adam Sexton for WMUR)

Don Bolduc chastises incumbents over their pandemic leadership. In an op-ed, Bolduc said "many of these same politicians who aided and abetted our government’s misguided approach to COVID-19 are asking for a fresh term in Washington. They are hoping for those early days of the pandemic to be a distant memory come November." (The Washington Times)

Dems are playing to older voters nationwide. They are highlighting their work on prescription drug costs and criticizing Republicans over suggests Social Security changes. "A quick glance at the Senate map shows how decisive older voters could be. Of the eight states at the center of the battle for the chamber, which is split 50-50, five are among the 20 oldest states in the country: New Hampshire is 2nd, Florida is 5th, Pennsylvania is 7th and Ohio and Wisconsin are in the teens." Plus, Nevada and Arizona are "havens for retirees." (Kevin Robillard for HuffPost)

*Correction (Sept. 7, 2022): An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Don Bolduc was the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in 2020. He ran in the GOP primary in 2020 but lost to Bryant "Corky" Messner.