Republican Senate nominee Don Bolduc headed to Georgia on Friday – in search of fundraising dollars to compete against incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan – to attend and speak at a retreat organized by the National Republican Senatorial Committee for major donors.
But the former Army general who narrowly edged longtime state Senate President Chuck Morse on Tuesday left behind a brewing controversy following his backtracking on comments he made during his primary campaign supporting former President Donald Trump’s repeated unproven claims that the 2020 election was “stolen.”
Bolduc, who struck a populist theme as he ran as an outsider and MAGA-style Republican amid a crowded primary field of contenders for the GOP nomination, embraced Trump’s constant bemoaning of his 2020 election loss. Bolduc, who served 10 tours of duty in the Afghanistan War, was part of a group of retired generals who signed a letter questioning the legitimacy of the election due to what they charged was “a tremendous amount of fraud.”
“I signed a letter with 120 other generals and admirals saying Trump won the election, and damn it, I stand by [it],” Bolduc proclaimed, during a primary debate last month.
But on Thursday, Bolduc shifted gears during a TV interview on Fox News.
“We live and learn, right?” he said. “And I’ve done a lot of research on this.”
His research included speaking with Granite State voters, he said.
“I have come to the conclusion, and I want to be definitive on this, the election was not stolen,” Bolduc emphasized.
He added that while he still believes there was fraud in the 2020 contest, “elections have consequences and, unfortunately, President Biden is the legitimate president of this country.”
State Rep. Al Baldasaro of Londonderry, a top Trump supporter and surrogate in New Hampshire, was not impressed.
“It’s a shame that he changed his mind,” Baldasaro said. “I disagree with him.”
Hassan’s campaign on Friday put out a statement spotlighting Bolduc’s change of stance that was headlined “Bolduc fails in his attempt to run away from his very, very long record of election denial.”
Bolduc also appears to be moderating his stance on the issue of legalized abortion.
Following the blockbuster move in June by the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, sending the combustible issue of legalized abortion back to the states, Bolduc called the decision a necessary correction.
Bolduc, who repeatedly highlighted that he’s “pro-life,” said at a primary debate this summer that he would “always default for a system that protects lives from beginning to end.”
But Bolduc says that he would not support a proposal, unveiled on Tuesday by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, to implement a federal abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“No, I’m not going to support it because it makes no sense,” Bolduc said on Fox News after declaring his primary victory. “The Supreme Court has already decided that this is a state issue. The states have it. That’s where it needs to be. Women on both sides of the issue will get a better voice at the state level.”
Hassan told reporters on Wednesday that Bolduc’s statements are “inconsistent with what he’s been saying for years. He has said he would vote for anti-choice legislation in Washington.”
Bolduc’s new comments opposing a federal abortion ban do call in to question a television commercial from the Hassan campaign launched on Wednesday that charged that “if Don Bolduc and Congressional Republicans take control of the U.S. Senate they would push for a nationwide ban on abortion — a ban with no exceptions.”
While Bolduc gave New Hampshire conservatives plenty of red meat during the primaries, there were concerns from some Republicans in the state and nationally that a nomination victory by the retired general, who has severely struggled with fundraising, would allow Hassan to win re-election.
A couple of weeks ago a newly formed super PAC named the White Mountain PAC, which had loose links to longtime Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s political orbit, dished out roughly $4 million to run TV commercials in New Hampshire boosting Morse and blasting Bolduc for his “crazy ideas.”
Now, post-primary, Bolduc appears to be doing what some other MAGA-style GOP nominees have done as they shifted to the general election, and that’s moderate their stance on some key issues.
New Hampshire’s competitive Republican primaries for the past six months often pitted conservative candidates supported by mainstream Republicans against far-right contenders often aligned with Trump and his legions of MAGA loyalists.
The patching up of primary differences is a work in progress, but one top Republican says is essential to secure victory in November.
“Now is the time for us to unite and come together as a party in New Hampshire, come together as a party all across this country and do what needs to be done,” former Vice President Mike Pence emphasized on Wednesday night, as he headlined a fundraiser for Bolduc in Wilton.
The next morning, the New Hampshire GOP held their post-primary unity breakfast at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord.
NHGOP chair Steve Stepanek warned the audience to not “take anything for granted between now and November,” and urged that “as passionately as you worked for your candidate in the primary, whether they won or lost, everyone has to work as passionately for the Republican ticket going forward.”
Seeking some unity, Bolduc walked over to Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and gave him a big hug during the breakfast.
After stressing at the end of his speech that “we do not win without this team coming together,” Bolduc stepped down from the podium and approached Sununu, who was next in line to speak, and embraced the governor, who remains the most popular politician among Granite State Republicans.
The hug by Bolduc appeared to be an attempt to erase a recent history of bad blood between the two men, who now share the top of the GOP ticket on November’s ballot in New Hampshire.
National Republican leaders spent a year trying to recruit Sununu to take on Hassan, viewed as vulnerable as she seeks a second term in the Senate. However, the governor announced last November that he would instead run for re-election.
Bolduc claimed last year that Sununu was a “communist Chinese sympathizer” and that the Sununu family’s business “supports terrorism.” While Bolduc has walked back those attacks, he has continued to criticize Sununu’s policies during the coronavirus pandemic as “executive overreach.”
A few weeks ago, Sununu said on a popular statewide talk-radio program that Bolduc was “not a serious candidate, he’s really not, and if he were the GOP nominee, I have no doubt we would have a much harder time… He’s kind of a conspiracy theorist-type candidate.”
While Sununu tempered those criticisms in recent days, he endorsed Morse ahead of the primary.
On the eve of the unity breakfast, Bolduc appeared to try and make amends with some of his past rhetoric on the campaign trial.
“A campaign is tough. It’s tough on everybody. We say things in the heat of conversation that we regret later. We hope that we can say we’re sorry for it and people forgive, but that’s not always the case. And I’m no different,” he lamented during the Pence-headlined fundraiser. “I’m a man who’s fallible. A man who errs. A man who says things that perhaps should be left unsaid.”