Daily Beast: This House Race is New Ground Zero in the MAGA Civil Wars
What started as a comfortable race for a Kevin McCarthy-backed candidate has turned into a hotly contested primary, pitting some of MAGA world’s biggest names against each other as the race hurdles to a close.
Along the Granite State’s wealthy Seacoast region in the 1st Congressional District, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s Congressional Leadership Fund has already spent more than $1.3 million boosting Matt Mowers, a former Trump White House adviser at the State Department. The super PAC also placed a $407,369 ad buy for Mowers on Friday.
On the other side is Rep. Elise Stefanik (NY), the third-ranking House Republican, who’s backing her former press secretary, Karoline Leavitt. At 25, Leavitt would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress if she wins the general election.
The endorsements in the primary—with Mowers and Leavitt neck-and-neck in the latest University of New Hampshire poll from the end of August—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.
Rep. Jim Jordan (OH) endorsed Leavitt on Thursday, joining other hardline Trump acolytes such as Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), Sen. Mike Lee (UT), outgoing Rep. Madison Cawthorn (NC), former Defense Department Chief of Staff Kash Patel, as well as state Rep. Al Baldasaro, the dean of New Hampshire’s MAGA wing.
In addition to McCarthy, Mowers has the support of Rep. Steve Scalise (LA), the minority whip, as well as Sen. Tom Cotton (AR), Trump’s former Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations under the former president.
Leavitt has cranked up her attacks on Mowers, most recently over his time working as the chief of staff for Dr. Deborah Birx when she was in charge of the Trump administration’s emergency plan for AIDS relief. Despite the lack of overlap with Birx in the White House during the COVID-19 pandemic, Leavitt decried Birx as a “DEEP STATE DOCTOR” on Twitter.
Mowers has been less vocal with his own attacks, but Leavitt has nonetheless been the subject of ridicule in negative ads from outside groups.
One attack ad from the Defending Main Street super PAC, which aligns with moderate Republicans, features Snapchat footage of Leavitt saying, “Listen up, ho bags,” and describes her as a “woke Gen-Zer” who “records everything.”
With an opportunity for the GOP to oust second term Rep. Chris Pappas (D)—whose seat is rated as a Democratic toss-up by the Cook Political Report—outside money has been pouring into the race. The lion’s share of that spending has been to the benefit of Mowers, totaling just over $2.5 million as of Sept. 1, though Leavitt, despite it being her first run for office, has proven to be a prodigious fundraiser with over $1.2 million raised this year and $666,00 in cash on hand, according to OpenSecrets.
Mowers, who won the GOP nomination before losing to Pappas by 5 percentage points in 2020, loaned himself $102,220 ahead of the second quarter deadline, according to campaign finance records. Stefanik’s PAC has given Leavitt’s campaign $10,000 so far this year, according to OpenSecrets.
He’s a fixture at local party events who has popped up whenever prospective presidential candidates are in town, including alongside Cotton at his jaunt through the Granite State just weeks before the 2020 election. He was also there when former Vice President Mike Pence headlined the Hillsborough County GOP’s annual fundraiser. Hailing from New Jersey’s Bergen County, Mowers moved to New Hampshire in 2013 to serve as executive director of the state GOP, according to the New Jersey Globe.
Leavitt grew up in Atkinson, New Hampshire, where her parents own Leavitt’s Ice Cream. A 2019 graduate of Saint Anselm College, she joined the Trump administration the summer after graduation to work under Kayleigh McEnany. Aside from her experience in the White House and as Stefanik’s press secretary, Leavitt also had a three-year stint with WMUR, the only local TV station in New Hampshire.
Both the Mowers and Leavitt campaigns did not return requests for comment.
McCarthy and Stefanik’s PACs also did not return requests for comment.
“The NRCC does not get involved in primaries,” NRCC Communications Director Michael McAdams told The Daily Beast.
Neither former President Trump nor Republican New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu have made an endorsement in the race.
But a Trump endorsement here would be risky, and likely wouldn’t come with the same boost as usual in a closely contested primary such as this one. According to the latest UNH poll, it could ultimately backfire.
The poll found that a Trump endorsement would make 36 percent of undecided voters less likely to vote for that candidate, compared to just 16 percent of that group who said it would make them more likely to support his pick.
The makeup of the district plays a factor, with a more educated and higher earning electorate than New Hampshire’s 2nd District in the western half of the state, according to Andrew Smith, the director of the UNH polling operation.
Then there’s former Boston local TV reporter Gail Huff-Brown, who, Smith noted, could end up as a potential beneficiary of the noise surrounding Leavitt and Mowers.
“Leavitt is the ‘Trumpiest’ of the candidates, but is viewed as a 25-year-old lightweight,” Smith told The Daily Beast. “Huff-Brown will likely benefit from the Mowers-Leavitt mudslinging.”