Patrick Hynes: Mowers is selling conservatism with a smile

IT’S NOT EASY being a front-runner in today’s climate. Voters are more jaded than ever. Political discourse is in the toilet. Insurgent campaigns seem to have all the fun and get most of the headlines.

But you wouldn’t know it scrolling through the Instagram page of congressional front-runner Matt Mowers. One day he’s traipsing through the snow with his baby, Jack, in a front carrier, the next he’s laughing it up with supporters in Rockingham County. Mowers is the image of the happy warrior selling conservatism with a smile.

The race for Congress in New Hampshire’s First District is still in its early stages, but the case for Mowers is a strong one. And it seems to grow stronger every week.

Fundraising is the mother’s milk of politics, as the saying goes. Mowers has raised roughly $850,000 in his campaign so far. He has almost $600,000 in cash on hand. More than 4,200 individual donors gave a total of over $400,000 during the most recent fundraising period. The average donation of $55 points to impressively broad grassroots support.

Mowers is polling well, too. Though there has been a dearth of horserace polling in the campaign to date, Mowers’ own internal polling from October shows him with 34% of the vote, far ahead of his fellow Republicans in the primary, with all other candidates in single digits.

New polling released last week by the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College indicates Granite State Republicans may be operating in the most favorable political environment they’ve seen in a long time. Almost three-quarters of Granite Staters say the country is on the wrong track, a breathtaking rebuke of President Joe Biden’s and incumbent Democratic Congressman Chris Pappas’ failed policies. Pappas is underwater; only 43% of respondents approve of his job performance while 47% disapprove.

Biden’s presidency is swirling the drain. Fifty-eight percent of respondents disapprove of the job he is doing and only 41% approve. The poll was conducted before his calamitous press conference last week in which he suggested a “small incursion” by Russia’s military into Ukraine might not provoke a response and implied the 2022 campaign may not be legitimate.

Biden’s groundless claims about the midterm elections drew a response from New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan, who said, “New Hampshire elections are, and will continue to be, legitimate and well run. There is no factual basis to suggest otherwise.” As of this is writing, neither Pappas nor any other member of New Hampshire’s federal delegation has commented on Biden’s blatantly dishonest claims about the upcoming elections.

Pappas is the most likely of that group to distance himself from Biden. Feeling the heat from Mowers, he has recently altered his positions on some high-profile issues. Last fall, Pappas declared his support for Biden’s unconstitutional vaccine mandate. But by December, he had flip-flopped and declined to support it. He also spoke supportively of a proposal to allow the IRS to monitor all transactions over $10,000 only to abandon his support for it once it became clear the idea was wildly unpopular.

All of this has Mowers’ supporters optimistic. Wayne MacDonald, a three-time chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party and current state representative from Londonderry, says, “Matt is building one of the strongest grassroots campaigns in the country — one that has raised a historic amount of money and has the message to connect with Granite Staters from every corner of the district.”

Some unknowns remain.

The boundaries of the First Congressional District are not yet defined. Redistricting could make it a more Republican seat. The New Hampshire House passed redrawn congressional district maps earlier this month. However, Gov.Chris Sununu has criticized the new district maps and hopes the New Hampshire Senate will alter them.

And while he is the clear front-runner, Mowers faces meaningful primary competition from some compelling and talented fellow Republican congressional hopefuls. Karoline Leavitt of Atkinson, Tim Baxter of Seabrook, and Gail Huff Brown of Rye have each raised impressive sums of campaign cash in their own rights. So far, the race has been relatively civil, but if Mowers sustains his lead throughout the spring and into the summer, voters should expect things to turn more negative.

We have many months to go before the primary, let alone the general election. But for now, frontrunner Mowers has a lot to be happy about.