On the trail: NH GOP leaders urge ‘decorum and respect’

Chuck Morse, a Republican, served as president of the New Hampshire Senate for five terms. (New Hampshire Bulletin)

Chuck Morse, a Republican, served as president of the New Hampshire Senate for five terms. (New Hampshire Bulletin)

By PAUL STEINHAUSER

For the Monitor

Published: 04-19-2024 4:53 PM

Top Republican Party leaders in New Hampshire are calling for “decorum and respect” as candidates face off in the GOP gubernatorial primaries.

The statement from NHGOP chair Chris Ager and New Hampshire’s two committee members on the Republican National Committee – former Cheshire County GOP chair Juliana Bergeron and former state House Speaker Bill O’Brien – comes as the Republican gubernatorial primary appears to be becoming more contentious.

The Thursday statement from Ager, Bergeron and O’Brien urged “decorum and respect among candidates in the upcoming primary elections.”

“This call reinforces the importance of adhering to Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican,’” they emphasized.

While their statement was a blanket call to all Republican candidates, GOP sources confirmed to the Monitor that it was fueled in particular by comments from Republican gubernatorial candidate and former state Senate President Chuck Morse.

The statement was released a couple of days after Morse, during an appearance at the state party’s biennial gathering, took aim at his rival for the gubernatorial nomination – former state attorney general and former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

Several attendees at the closed-to-press event said that Morse criticized Ayotte, who stood with him on the stage, over her record on the issues of immigration and border security – which are top of mind among Republican voters.

“We can’t trust someone that ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010 as a conservative and then voted with the Democrats 265 times,” Morse reportedly said, according to his campaign, in criticizing Ayotte’s record in Washington D.C.

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Sources at the gathering said that Morse’s campaign staffers passed out literature that read “Just say NO to Amnesty Ayotte this September.” The Morse campaign has also launched a website titled “Amnesty Ayotte.”

“Facts are facts. And talking about someone’s record is only an attack if they are embarrassed by it,” Morse campaign spokesperson Maya Harvey said.

Ayotte campaign spokesman John Corbett said in a statement that “Kelly is focused on keeping New Hampshire safe, prosperous, and free and ensuring that the Democrats don’t turn our great state into Massachusetts.”

And appearing to point to public opinion polls that suggest Ayotte is the front-runner for the GOP nomination and would have the upper hand in general election matchups with the two main Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Corbett added “as for Joyce Craig, Cinde Warmington, and Chuck Morse, it’s clear that Kelly Ayotte is beating them, and they don’t like it!”

A Republican source said that the aim of the statement from Ager, Bergeron and O’Brien was to head off the “fireworks” between the candidates before it went too far.

O’Brien didn’t refer to any specific candidates.

“We have a great party with great ideas and to the extent candidates want to campaign based on personalities, they’re really missing an opportunity to speak to our strengths,” he said.

He also issued a warning.

“They could potentially be harming those who are going to win the primary in inappropriate ways. We just wanted to remind folks of that,” O’Brien said.

Opinions among New Hampshire Republicans appear to be split, with some saying Morse’s comments are business as usual in a competitive primary. And they said the comments paled in comparison to the explosive rhetoric among former President Donald Trump and his rivals in the New Hampshire presidential primary.

But others expressed concerns over the increasingly contentious GOP gubernatorial primary, in comparison to a Democratic primary that’s seen Craig, the former Manchester mayor, and Warmington, the sole Democrat on the Executive Council, team up recently at a joint party press conference to take aim at Republicans over the issue of abortion.