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Morse Concedes to Bolduc in New Hampshire Senate Race, Realizing G.O.P. Fears

Don Bolduc, a retired army general and 2020 election denier, appears to have won the Republican Senate nomination in New Hampshire after his main rival conceded early Wednesday.

The Associated Press has not yet announced the race. As of 8 a.m., Mr. Bolduc was about 1,200 votes ahead of Chuck Morse, the chairman of the State Senate.

Morse was backed by Governor Chris Sununu and aided by $4.5 million from national Republicans, who feared a Bolduc victory would forfeit what they saw as a win-win seat in the quest for control in the Senate this fall.

Bolduc’s apparent victory will come as a relief to Democrats, who also assume he will be the weaker opponent against Senator Maggie Hassan, a first-term Democrat. She won by about 1,000 votes in purple New Hampshire in 2016, but was saddled with low job approval ratings. Four states — New Hampshire, Arizona, Georgia and Nevada — have vulnerable Democratic senators who are aggressively defending the party to keep the Senate in their hands.

Mr Bolduc led wire-to-wire in the polls during the race. He garnered grassroots support by traveling extensively for two years and holding city hall-style events where attendees were outraged at President Biden and Democratic governance in Washington.

His supporters were less animated by bread-and-butter issues like inflation — which are expected to soon affect the cost of the home heating oil commonly used in New Hampshire — than by immigration, the 2020 election and cultural issues. “I signed a letter with 120 other generals and admirals saying that Donald Trump won the election and damn, I stand by it,” Bolduc said during a debate last month. He has also said he was open to abolishing the FBI after agents searched Trump’s Florida residence for classified documents.

Mr. Sununu, a moderate and popular Republican in the state, was outspoken when he called Mr. Bolduc a “conspiracy theory extremist” whom most voters did not take seriously.

Mr. Morse, 61, the chairman of the State Senate, acknowledged that Joseph R. Biden Jr. won in 2020 and said he would have certified the election had he been in Congress on January 6, 2021.

In debates, Mr. Morse rarely put his fire on Mr. Bolduc, instead he attacked Mrs. Hassan. He emphasized how he had led the legislature to set aside a budget that Ms. Hassan had rejected as governor because it included cuts in business tax. Hassan’s campaign has positioned her as breaking with her party on issues affecting the New Hamphirites — pushing for a federal gasoline tax exemption, for example — and standing up to “Big Pharma” to cut the cost of prescription drugs.

Other candidates in the Republican primary were Kevin Smith, a former Londonderry city manager, and Bruce Fenton, a cryptocurrency entrepreneur whose libertarianism — he was in favor of legalizing all drugs — animated debates but also provoked booing.

Mr Bolduc’s poor fundraising meant that he was unable to place a single advertisement on television. A super PAC with ties to national Republicans spent millions of dollars on ads that thwarted him and boosted Morse.

A Democratic group also tried to shape the race: The Senate Majority PAC, which is aligned with New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, attacked Morse in ads as “sleazy” in an effort to drive voters to Mr. Bolduc, betting he would be easier to beat in November.

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Before the general election, super PACs affiliated with Republican leaders in the Senate have set aside $29 million for ads in New Hampshire, which could boost Mr. Bolduc and taint Ms. Hassan. But it’s unclear if those pledges will hold up with Mr Bolduc on the ballot.

If left alone, Bolduc would enter the contest with Ms. Hassan at a serious disadvantage: He only had $84,000 in his campaign account at the end of August, according to federal records. Mrs. Hassan had $7.3 million. She’s already spent millions this year on ads to boost her image, including one that claims she’s “the most bipartisan senator,” but her endorsement has stalled. in polls about 45 percent.

Still, the confrontation with Bolduc Ms. Hassan, 64, added to Democrats’ list of the incumbent officials they must defend most to maintain control of the Senate and ensure President Biden does not become paralyzed for the remainder of his term in office.

With the New Hampshire primary so late in the year, Bolduc has just eight weeks before the general election to move beyond calls to the Republican grassroots and reach out to independents and conservative Democrats, voters who traditionally contribute to the coalition. that Republican candidates need to win statewide in New Hampshire.

Mainstream Republicans in the state have been skeptical that Bolduc will be able to modulate his image after two years of appealing to the Trump-centric party base.

One of the reasons he led in polls from the start is that he was a year ahead of his rivals. The race was basically frozen when Mr. Sununu, one of the top recruiting targets of National Republicans to take on Ms. Hassan, considered joining. It was November when he decided to forgo a Senate bid and seek reelection as governor.

A shoe that never fell was an endorsement of former President Donald J. Trump. Morse and his supporters campaigned to gain the former president’s approval, including a visit from Mr. Morse to Mr. Trump at his golf club in Bedminster, NJ, on Sept. 2.

Although the talks were cordial, aides for both men said there was no approval. After their meeting, Mr. Trump invited Mr. Morse and his team to dinner at his club, but Mr. Trump did not join them.

On the eve of the election, Mr Sununu – who once accused Mr Bolduc of being “a Chinese communist sympathizer” – suggested that if mr. Bolduc would become the nominee, he would support him.