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For Democrats to keep control of the Senate, New Hampshire race is a must win

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

New Hampshire is a must-win state for Democrats in their campaign to keep control of the Senate. Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan narrowly won her last race in 2016. This time, she's facing a far-right Republican candidate who wants to keep the focus on the economy. NPR's congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh reports.

DEIDRE WALSH, BYLINE: In the purple state of New Hampshire, voters across the political spectrum agree on the big problem.

SHELLEY HANSON: I mean, we can't - I can't afford to live like this.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: My head's still not above water. The prices are ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: My home electrical bill went from $200 a month to $600 a month.

WALSH: Don Bolduc, retired Army brigadier general, is hitting inflation hard.

DON BOLDUC: Boom, down comes the hammer from the Biden-Hassan agenda, which skyrockets inflation.

WALSH: Bolduc won the GOP primary echoing former President Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was rigged. The day after that primary win, Bolduc reversed himself and said Biden won but since then has made conflicting public statements. Trying to attract independents, 40% of the voters in the state, Bolduc told reporters in Rochester...

BOLDUC: I do not believe the election was stolen. The simple thing is I changed my mind, and I have the freedom to do that.

WALSH: Another issue that Bolduc has shifted on - abortion. He's said he backs a system that protects life from beginning to end. Asked if that means he'd vote no on a federal abortion ban, Bolduc grew frustrated at the topic.

BOLDUC: Yes, I've said that. I don't know how many times I need to say it. I can put together a skit for you.

WALSH: Women are on both sides of the abortion issue. Barbara Dunnington, a Bolduc supporter, said the economy is a bigger factor for her.

BARBARA DUNNINGTON: If you can't buy food, if you can't hang on to a job, abortion is not that crucial.

WALSH: But abortion was a major concern for some voters in the lunch crowd at Lou's Restaurant in Hanover.

KIMBERLY VALCIN: Top-of-mind issues for me are things like women's rights.

WALSH: That's Kimberly Valcin, a first-time New Hampshire voter and Democrat. Senator Maggie Hassan, running for her second term, chatted with her and other diners.

MAGGIE HASSAN: Do you eat here regularly? I'm your senator.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: This is our first time.

WALSH: In her pitch to voters, Hassan points to her accomplishments.

HASSAN: I voted to give Medicare the power to negotiate prescription drug prices.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I see.

HASSAN: OK. And voted to make sure people could get tax cuts for making energy-efficient improvements.

I have a record of delivering on a number of issues, doing it across party lines and doing it the way Granite Staters expect me to.

WALSH: Hassan says her supporters believe the issue of abortion is no less important than inflation.

HASSAN: You know, as I started to talk with women about inflation, they all change the subject to abortion. They also said to me, but if my fundamental rights are gone, that's much harder to get back.

WALSH: She warns the race is close and puts some distance between herself and President Biden on the economy.

HASSAN: The administration was too slow to recognize the long-term reality of inflation, and they took too long to react to it.

WALSH: Asked about what she was doing about inflation, Hassan pointed to short-term solutions she's advocated for.

HASSAN: To release more oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help with the price of gas. And as you know, this week, the administration did another release.

WALSH: Hassan touts money for infrastructure projects and investing billions to manufacture products in the U.S. But at a steel company in Greenland, Bolduc emphasized to employees that Hassan was out of touch with the reality of rising costs.

BOLDUC: She's failed - six years of failing - fail, fail, fail, fail, fail.

WALSH: He said he'd turn things around.

BOLDUC: I go to Washington, D.C., to be your United States senator and work on the real problems that Americans and Granite Staters are having right now.

WALSH: One employee, Shelley Hanson, a Democrat, says she's still figuring out who to support.

HANSON: I had my mind made up of who I was going to vote for before this. And now maybe I might look a little deeper into it.

WALSH: She voted for Biden in 2020 but is not a fan of the system in Washington.

HANSON: I think it needs to change because I think the whole thing needs to be shaken up.

WALSH: Both candidates and their allies are flooding the airwaves. One Hassan supporter, Jenn Alford-Teaster, says one thing is constant here.

JENN ALFORD-TEASTER: I don't think there will ever be a race in the history of New Hampshire that will never not be close.

WALSH: Republicans need to net just one seat to retake the majority on November 8. A lot of attention is focused in contests in Georgia and Nevada, but the political fate of the Senate could also be decided here.

Deirdre Walsh, NPR News, Hanover, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.