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With new map finally in place, New Hampshire is a top state to watch in midterms

Pappas, Kuster both vulnerable; GOP picks nominees in September

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., is running in a district that President Joe Biden would have won by 9 points in 2020.
Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., is running in a district that President Joe Biden would have won by 9 points in 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

New Hampshire Republicans had to draw one line to bisect the Granite State into two congressional districts. They only had to move about 9,000 people from the 1st to the 2nd District. Yet the state Supreme Court had to finally step in at the end to draw the line and New Hampshire was the last state to finish the redistricting process. 

Now that the new line is in place, New Hampshire is one of the top states to watch for the height of a political wave that could be hitting the entire country in favor of Republicans. Because, in the past, New Hampshire has gone with the national tide.

Republicans came into 2006 with full control of the congressional delegation. But Democrat Carol Shea-Porter scored upset victories in the primary and general elections (the latter against Rep. Jeb Bradley) and Democrat Paul Hodes defeated GOP Rep. Charlie Bass, giving Democrats control of both House seats. Overall, Democrats gained 31 seats in President George W. Bush’s second midterm and made Nancy Pelosi the first woman speaker of the House. 

In President Barack Obama’s first midterm in 2010, Republicans gained 63 seats in the House nationwide including Republican Frank Guinta’s defeat of Shea-Porter and Bass’ win in Hodes’ open seat in New Hampshire.

[More House race ratings | Initial Senate race ratings]

This cycle, both Democratic Reps. Chris Pappas and Ann McLane Kuster are vulnerable in President Joe Biden’s first midterm. Republicans have a good chance of defeating at least one, if not both, of the incumbents. 

Republicans are also challenging Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan. Even though they lost their best challenger when GOP Gov. Chris Sununu decided to run for reelection instead of for Senate, the senator is still vulnerable in this political environment, considering New Hampshire’s penchant for swinging with the national mood.

1st District (Chris Pappas, D)

The 1st District takes in the eastern part of the state, including Manchester, and has typically been the more competitive of New Hampshire’s two seats.

Pappas was first elected in 2018 and reelected in 2020 by 5 points over former state GOP executive director Matt Mowers. From a partisan performance perspective, the district is fundamentally the same. Biden would have won it by 6 points in 2020 and Trump would have won it by 2 points in 2016. That puts it firmly within reach for the GOP with an unpopular Democratic president in the White House. 

But before Republicans can focus on Pappas, they must select a nominee in the Sept. 13 primary. Mowers is running again, but it’s a crowded field that also includes state Rep. Tim Baxter, former Trump campaign staffer Karoline Leavitt, Gail Huff Brown (wife of former Massachusetts senator/2014 New Hampshire Senate nominee Scott Brown) and former executive councilor Russell Prescott. Even though Republicans won’t have a nominee for another few months, this race will be competitive in November. Initial rating: Tilt Democratic.

2nd District (Ann McLane Kuster, D)

The 2nd District takes in the western part of the state and is anchored by Concord. Even though the district added some population, it didn’t change politically. Biden would have carried the new 2nd by 9 points in 2020 and Hillary Clinton would have won it by 2 points in 2016. 

Kuster first ran in 2010 and lost the race for the open seat left behind when Hodes ran for the Senate. But Kuster was elected in 2012 after defeating Bass and reelected each time including in 2020, when she won by 10 points. 

Similar to the 1st District, Republicans must choose a challenger in the September primary. Keene Mayor George Hansel has been endorsed by Sununu, and former Hillsborough County treasurer Robert Burns and former Colorado Libertarian Senate candidate Lily Tang Williams are running as well.

Kuster will start the general election with a significant cash advantage. But if voters in the district are intent on sending a message to Washington and voicing their frustration with the Democrats in charge, the congresswoman could see a very serious race. Initial rating: Likely Democratic.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.

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