The GOP primary in New Hampshire’s 1st District is more about style than substance
Mowers and Leavitt are seen as the top two candidates in a sprawling field of Republicans seeking to take on Rep. Chris Pappas, one of the most vulnerable House Democrats in the country. With election forecasters tempering their months-old predictions of an overwhelming red wave election for Republicans this November, operatives on the right are looking at targets like Pappas as must-wins if the GOP is going to win control of the chamber.
“Watching these two try to out-Trump each other, with Matt trying to walk a fine line between talking up his Trump administration bona fides while also preserving his electability in a general election… has allowed an opening for Leavitt, who is running as this pure Trump, election-denying candidate,” said Fergus Cullen, a former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party who is voting for Russell Prescott, a former member of the New Hampshire Executive Council.
Cullen said he won’t vote for Leavitt if she wins the nomination — “New Hampshire doesn’t need a Marjorie Taylor Greene or a Lauren Boebert representing us,” he said — a feeling that highlights the fears about a Leavitt win.
Mowers’ ties to New Hampshire go back to the 2014 election cycle, when he worked as the executive director of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee. In the 2016 cycle, Mowers initially worked for Chris Christie as the New Jersey governor sought the GOP presidential nomination. But when Christie’s campaign failed, Mowers went to work for Trump’s campaign and, after the Republican’s victory, the State Department. Mowers, with Trump’s backing, then unsuccessfully challenged Pappas in 2020.
By comparison, Leavitt is more of a political newcomer. After graduating from Saint Anselm College in 2019, the Republican went to work in the Trump White House. She eventually became assistant press secretary under White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. After Trump’s loss, she went to work for Rep. Elise Stefanik, now the third-ranking House Republican.
Although Mowers is running on Trump-backed policy — his website blares “Drain the Swamp” and has an entire page on “Election Integrity” — his style is more measured than the brand of politics that has defined Trump’s orbit of political acolytes, a caution that has opened the door to the more aggressive Leavitt.
Recent debates in the primary have highlighted these stylistic differences.
That wasn’t good enough for Leavitt, who lambasted Mowers and echoed Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
“I reject that,” she says.
Leavitt was unequivocal. “Yes,” she said, citing border security.
Mowers was more cautious, calling for “hearings to look into these things.”
The race has divided House leadership, too.
Money has flooded the race, with millions being spent to try to protect Mowers from a Leavitt surge.
Democrats have watched the primary with a mix of trepidation, joy and concern.
Collin Gately, a Pappas spokesperson, said the Republican primary has been dominated by “extremism and ugliness” and that none the candidates “have a clue about how to help New Hampshire families, and voters will reject their extreme agenda.”
But even the most upbeat members of the party acknowledge that Pappas is vulnerable. Still, many believe that the contentious GOP primary — along with the fact that the race is concluding in September, less than two months before the general election — could help the New Hampshire Democrat win.
In response to the President’s plan to cancel some student loan debate, Pappas said it “should be more targeted and paid for so it doesn’t add to the deficit.”
Mowers is married to a senior video producer at CNN.
CNN’s David Wright contributed to this report.