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25-year-old former Trump aide wins GOP primary in New Hampshire

Karoline Leavitt takes part in a debate in Henniker, N.H., just days before the primary.
Mary Schwalm
/
AP
Karoline Leavitt takes part in a debate in Henniker, N.H., just days before the primary.

Former Trump press staffer Karoline Leavitt has won the Republican primary in New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District, according to a race call by The Associated Press.

Leavitt, 25, is only the second member of Generation Z to win a House primary and the first Republican. The 2022 midterm season is the first time the eldest Gen Zers are eligible to run for the U.S. House of Representatives, where 25 is the minimum age to serve.

Leavitt will now face off against incumbent Democrat Chris Pappas, 42, to represent the district — a toss-up seat Republicans hope to flip as part of their goal of winning back the majority of seats in the House.

"They said I was too young, we could never raise the money to compete, and that we could never beat a former Republican nominee," Leavitt said in her victory speech Tuesday night.

"Over the last year we were outspent but we were not outworked," she exclaimed. "No way!"

Leavitt defeated former Trump State Department official Matt Mowers, 33, who ran for the seat in 2020 and lost to Pappas by 5 percentage points.

Mowers released a statement in which he pledged to "never stop fighting" for middle class families.

Though Mowers narrowly led in polls against Leavitt ahead of the primary, the most recent University of New Hampshire survey added uncertainty, finding that nearly a fourth of respondents were still undecided just two weeks from the election.

The two candidates also ran with similar platforms, branding themselves as staunch conservatives and political outsiders — while simultaneously promoting their time working in the Trump administration.

Where they differ is on the result of the 2020 election — Leavitt openly trumpeted the former president's lie that he won, while Mowers has not directly addressed it.

Matt Mowers speaks during the final primary debate before Tuesday's race.
Mary Schwalm / AP
/
AP
Matt Mowers speaks during the final primary debate before Tuesday's race.

Trump did not endorse a candidate in the primary race, but the matchup divided support among Republican leaders in Congress.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the two highest-ranking House Republicans, threw their support behind Mowers. While New York Rep. Elise Stefanik — ranking third — backed Leavitt, who previously served as her spokeswoman in Congress.

Leavitt's connection to Stefanik partially links back to her historic start in Congress, when the New York Congresswoman made history in 2014 as the youngest woman ever elected to the House when she took office.

"[Stefanik] was one of the few people, frankly, in Washington that believed in me to do this," Leavitt told NPR in an interview earlier this summer.

"I know Elise received that same condemnation when she wanted to run, so she really believed in me and believed that I had what it took," she added.

Throughout her campaign, Leavitt framed her youth as an asset rather than a deterrent — arguing that younger voters need to hear from more conservative voices — even though a majority of those voters lean towards Democratic candidates.

"It's a very one-sided culture that we live in," Leavitt told NPR, "How do we break through that mold? It's by electing young people to office that can resonate with these voters, have a platform at the national stage, that can show them ideas, policies, values that they're not hearing elsewhere."

But for Mowers, who's 33 years old and would easily be considered a younger member of Congress, in this race, Leavitt is nearly a decade younger, putting generational differences in the political spotlight.

Leavitt's win comes less than a month after Democratic candidate Maxwell Frost made history as the first member of Gen Z to win a congressional primary.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elena Moore is a production assistant for the NPR Politics Podcast. She also fills in as a reporter for the NewsDesk. Moore previously worked as a production assistant for Morning Edition. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she worked for the Washington Desk as an editorial assistant, doing both research and reporting. Before coming to NPR, Moore worked at NBC News. She is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is originally and proudly from Brooklyn, N.Y.