Republican Rep. Ken Weyler was known around the New Hampshire Statehouse for dismissing the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines and opposing tens of millions of dollars in federal funds to promote vaccinations.

‘But when the 79-year-old Weyler, a retired commercial pilot and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate who chaired the legislature’s powerful fiscal committee, sent a 52-page report likening vaccines to “organized mass murder,” Republican leaders were compelled to act.

“I don’t know of anyone who agrees with it. It’s absolute craziness,” said Republican House Speaker Sherman Packard, who quickly accepted Weyler’s resignation from his committee post.

The episode was especially piercing in New Hampshire, where the previous House speaker died of COVID-19 last year.

A year and a half into the pandemic, surveys show Republicans are less worried about the threat from COVID-19 or its variants, less confident in science, less likely to be vaccinated than Democrats and independents and more opposed to vaccine mandates.

It’s a combination of views that comes with clear health risks — and potential political consequences. In a place like New Hampshire, where Republicans are hoping to win back congressional seats next year, politicians with fringe views stand to distract voters from the party’s agenda, driving away independents and moderates.

The risk is particularly clear in “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire, where the fight over vaccines has activated the libertarian wing of the GOP. The divisions have the potential to dominate Republican primaries next year.

“What I wonder over the next year is whether all of this is the tip of the iceberg or the whole iceberg,” said Dante Scala, political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has been widely praised for his handling of the pandemic, but has also come under fire from conservative critics. They have pushed back on his state of emergency, which put limits on business operations and public gatherings, often holding rowdy protests, including some at his house.

Sununu, who is eyeing a run for Senate next year against Democratic U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, joined other Republican leaders in opposing a federal vaccine mandate. But that did little to placate his critics, who repeatedly shouted down fellow Republicans during a press conference last month to protest the federal mandate.

Gallup polling from September found 57% of Democrats are very or somewhat worried about getting the coronavirus compared with 18% of Republicans. The Democrats are also more confident that vaccines will protect against new variants and more confidence in science — 79% compared to 45% of Republicans.