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    It may be her first campaign, but building blocks of Leavitt’s politics were laid years ago

    Karoline Leavitt’s first job after graduating college in 2019 was a big one: working in the White House press office for President Donald Trump. The goal of that office during the former president’s term was to present a counter-narrative to any critical coverage.

    Being a spokesperson, in some ways, is the opposite of what Leavitt once thought she’d do as a career: reporting on the news, not making it.

    “I was always infatuated with the news,” Leavitt told the Highlight Her podcast earlier this year. “Like, growing up, my family still has home videos of me pretending to be a reporter.”

    Those news anchor ambitions would eventually be sidelined, but her ability to communicate effectively, paired with an unstinting conservativism formed in the mold of her former boss and a self-described outsider image, helped fuel Leavitt’s surprise victory in a crowded GOP primary field for New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District this year.

    Now, she is now set to take on incumbent Democrat Chris Pappas in what polling shows is a tight race less than three weeks until Election Day. (Leavitt’s campaign did not respond to an interview request for this story.)

    It has been a rapid rise for Leavitt, 25, who grew up in Atkinson scooping chocolate at her family’s ice cream stand. As a communications major at St. Anselm College, which she originally attended on a softball scholarship, she founded the school’s first broadcasting club in 2017, working with other students to cover college news and local sports.

    The club also provided Leavitt with her first chance to do something she would regularly do as a candidate: go on camera to defend and support the policies of President Trump.

    “People are hash tagging Muslim ban. This isn’t a Muslim ban,” Leavitt said during a Jan. 31 2017 episode of the SAC Broadcasting Station. “It’s a ban on seven Middle Eastern states that are basically war torn countries.”

    Leavitt greets her supporters outside of Estey’s General Store in Londonderry.

    During her time on campus, Leavitt interned at WMUR, New Hampshire’s only statewide network television station, and also wrote op-eds for the school’s newspaper, the St. Anselm Crier, where she took aim at the “liberal media” and criticized her professors for criticizing the president. Leavitt would later describe herself as the “token conservative” on campus, a status that, whether accurate or not at the Catholic college, only seems to have given her more resolve to speak out.

    “I was a conservative, and certainly our higher education university is definitely left leaning, professors and students alike,” she told Highlight Her. “So I really had to be more brave than I ever was and standing up for what I believed in in classes where I was the only student who felt that way.”

    If her time on campus served as a political awakening of sorts, it also coincided with the beginning of the Trump era of Republican politics. As a college freshman, she attended a Trump rally in her hometown, where she gave a supportive quote to the Boston Globe. As a candidate herself, she has made complete loyalty to the former president part of her political brand, including repeating false claims that Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 election.

    Woven tightly with those conservative political convictions are Leavitt’s religious ones. She talks about her Catholic education as formative for her spirituality, including in an interview with the Catholic Current podcast.

    “Central Catholic High School was an incredible place,” she told Father Robert McTeigue, describing her alma mater in Lawrence, Mass. “It taught me discipline. It brought me closer in my own relationship with God, and it also taught me the importance of public service and giving back to your community.”

    Those same values–faith, family, opposition to abortion rights–now help drive her political campaign for Congress, her first run for elected office.

    “This is a challenge that I’ve thrown myself into,” she said on the podcast. “And my faith in God carries me through. I wake up everyday and say my prayers and ask God to give me the strength I need to power through another day on a very difficult campaign trail.”

    photo of Leavitt at a podium during a debate

    Leavitt during a GOP primary debate in September on the campus of New England College in Henniker (file photo)

    That campaign is about to get more intense.

    Leavitt and Pappas are scheduled to debate later this week. At 42-years old, Pappas himself is young by New Hampshire political standards, but he’s held various offices for two decades, rising the political ranks from local and county positions to now seeking a third term in Congress.

    Still, Neil Levesque, who directs St. Anselm’s Institute of Politics and says he served as something of a mentor for Leavitt during her time on campus, says her relative lack of experience may not hurt her.

    “She’s a young person, I think everyone recognizes that, but she is very capable of doing things that most people would probably say, ‘You need to wait your turn,’ ” Levesque said.

    She’s trying to make some history along the way, too. If elected at 25-years old, an age where the experiences of high school and college are still fresh, Leavitt would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

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