One week before the polls open, the five candidates for the Republican First Congressional District primary met for a one hour debate on WMUR.

Tim Baxter, Gayle Huff Brown, Karoline Leavitt, Matt Mowers, and Russell Prescott sounded familiar themes of being against abortion and in favor of closing the southern border.

Within ten minutes of the debate's conclusion at St. Anselm College, Mowers and Leavitt claimed a win.

“It’s clear that Granite Staters want tested conservative Matt Mowers in Congress who will stop Biden’s socialist agenda and restore our conservative voice in Washington. Tonight, Matt laid out a plan to beat Chris Pappas and advance the America First agenda,” campaign spokesperson John Corbett said in an email.

Corbett said in his statement that "low-polling candidates focused on petty personal attacks using false Democrat talking points."

Leavitt's campaign said she had "another dominant performance," and attacked Mowers by name.

"I am glad the people of New Hampshire finally get to see Matt Mowers for who he truly is -- a shady swamp lobbyist and political operative who is bought and paid for by the DC establishment for $4 million dollars," she said in a statement.

Gayle Huff Brown's campaign said her debate performance showed why the Union Leader endorsed her in the primary.

"Gayle is Chris Pappas' worst nightmare, and she will mop the floor with him in November," read a statement from campaign manager Ben Hincher.

Baxter and Prescott did not issue statements about the debate.

(L-R)Matt Mowers, Karoline Leavitt, Tim Baxter, Gayle Huff Brown, Russell Prescott
(L-R)Matt Mowers, Karoline Leavitt, Tim Baxter, Gayle Huff Brown, Russell Prescott (campaigns)

One Hour, Two Debates

SNHU Civic Scholar and founder of NH Political Capital Dean Spiliotes, Seacoast Current's political consultant, saw the debate as two different events.

"If you only watched the first half hour of the debate, you came away thinking there aren't big differences among these candidates. They all support some mix of nuclear power and enhanced drilling for fossil fuels," Spiliotes said.

The tone changed in the second half, where Baxter in particular saw a chance to break through by going after poll frontrunners Mowers and Leavitt.

"Baxter's strategy is what you would expect someone who wants to move in the polls to do. Whether it's going to help him or not, I don't know, but it provided that kind of movement in the second half of the debate that we saw," Spiliotes said.

With "undecided" leading the three polls in the past month about the race, will the debate win the candidates any votes?

"It really depends on your ideology. People who are focused on the fact that the first CD is a swing district, they would probably find someone like Huff Brown or Mowers or even Prescott more interesting," Spiliotes said. "If you're part of the MAGA world or a very strong Trump supporter or a 'Free State'-type conservative, maybe Baxter or Leavitt."

Spiliotes said that Pappas has been successful because he appeals to not only Democrats, but moderate Republicans and independents.

"A lot of those folks don't vote in the Republican primary, but they do vote in the general election," Spiliotes said.

Rep. Chris Pappas speaks during a vigil in Dover in support of Ukraine 3/4/22
Rep. Chris Pappas speaks during a vigil in Dover in support of Ukraine 3/4/22 (Jolana Miller, Townsquare Media)

Democrats Have the Expected Reaction

Predictably, Democrats were not impressed by any of the candidates in the debate.

"Well that was…something. While the GOP candidates continue to fight among themselves and audition for Donald Trump’s endorsement, Chris Pappas is working to deliver for Granite State families and putting New Hampshire’s interests over the special interests," the New Hampshire Democratic Party said in a tweet.

"That was an absolute embarrassment. No candidate offered anything to the people of New Hampshire but extreme MAGA talking points." the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a one sentence statement.

The primary is Tuesday, with the winner taking on incumbent Chris Pappas in the November general election.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNH

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