NH Senate nominees debate election fraud, campaign styles

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan defended her comparatively closed-door approach to campaigning Thursday, while her Republican challenger Don Bolduc used his more open style to justify casting further doubt on the integrity of New Hampshire elections.

Bolduc, a retired Army brigadier general, was asked during a debate whether he believes the governor and secretary of state when they say that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the state and that elections are secure.

“I believe Granite Staters, and I’m the only one sitting here who’s been to every town and city in the state over two years,” Bolduc said, ticking off things he said he has heard about voting machines, ballots cast by out-of-state college students and more.

“They don’t like the fact that they can’t trust the mail-in ballot system,” he said. “They don’t like the fact that same-day voter registration causes fraud.”

He also mentioned unfounded claims that Democrats have arranged for busloads of voters from other states to vote illegally in New Hampshire. Asked whether he believes such claims, he said, “I’m saying that this is what Granite Staters are telling me, and I think it’s valid.”

Bolduc, who lost the GOP nomination for New Hampshire’s other Senate seat in 2020, won this year’s nomination thanks in large part to his near-constant grassroots campaigning since then. He again credited that effort when a moderator suggested that, like the career politicians he criticizes, Bolduc has been changing his positions to pander to different audiences.

After long insisting during the primary that the 2020 election was stolen from President Donald Trump, he shifted his position after the Sept. 13 primary, saying first that it wasn’t stolen and later that he wasn’t sure. On Tuesday, he was back to saying it wasn’t stolen, but said he changed his mind after talking to voters and can admit when he’s wrong.

“The more people that you talk to, the more experience you get, the more ideas you get and the more views that you need to internalize,” he said. “So it’s not changing for audience’s sake, it’s changing because that’s what I’m supposed to be: accountable, responsible, transparent, trustful.”

But Hassan argued Bolduc’s comments and others he has made about the 2020, 2022 and 2024 elections show he wouldn’t be accountable to voters. Bolduc would feel free to ignore constituents “because he doesn’t need to accept election results,” she said.

“What you just heard from Don Bolduc is his continued to attempt to stoke the Big Lie. He has traveled around this state for over a year now stoking the big lie that 2020 was stolen,” she said. “It means he doesn’t think he is accountable.”

Nearly two years after Trump’s defeat, there has been no evidence of widespread fraud. Numerous reviews in the battleground states where Trump disputed his loss have affirmed the results, courts have rejected dozens of lawsuits filed by Trump and his allies, and even Trump’s own Department of Justice concluded the results were accurate.

Hassan pushed back when asked whether her habit of holding small, private campaign events is at odds with her frequent claim that “in New Hampshire, we do democracy better than anyplace else.”

Hassan said she regularly sits down with employees at New Hampshire businesses to hear their concerns, and is often approached by voters while grocery shopping or grabbing coffee. And she said she has successfully addressed those concerns — on issues such as surprise medical billing and infrastructure improvements — in Washington. She also has spoken and taken questions at multiple forums — including one devoted to mental health issues — that Bolduc declined to attend.

“I run my campaign in a way that allows me to hear from Granite Staters and address their concerns in real time, both as a candidate and as a sitting United States senator,” she said.

The debate was sponsored by New Hampshire Public Radio, New Hampshire Bulletin and New Hampshire PBS.