It was 5:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 2, and the sun had not yet arrived for work. This is not a luxury afforded to political candidates. State representative hopefuls Pat Long and Chuck Thibault stood behind a barricaded area beside the Carol M. Rines polling place on Elm Street in Manchester. Both men held signs and wore thick coats. The polling station would be open until 8 p.m.; it was going to be a long day.
“Today I’m not trying to convince them [voters],” said Long, who was an incumbent. “Just let them know I care enough to be here.”
“When people show up, they like to see the candidate,” Thibault said. “They may still have a few questions and I can answer them. There is a certain percentage of voters who wait to decide until they are walking in.”
Inside the Rines building a few minutes later, a line had begun to snake through the hallways. One man seemed positive about who he would vote for: “I hope there is a box that says, ‘Throw the bums out.’ That’s the one I’m going to check.”
Just after his spirited proclamation, an election worker, doing her best impression of a train conductor, shouted, “It is six o’clock! The polls are now open!”
Ten minutes after that, the first wave of activity had died down. A ballot inspector sitting at the table marked for voters, R-Z, flipped through a James Patterson novel. Faces perked up when congressional candidate Frank Guinta walked in, carrying donuts and a box of coffee.
“I used to live in this district,” Guinta said. “It is my morning ritual. I bring coffee and donuts over before I hit the road.” Guinta was mildly surprised when told a schedule of his activities for the day had been sent out to the press. “We did that?” he questioned. But Guinta didn’t have time to dwell. He hopped shotgun in a silver Ford SUV and hit the road.
Nov. 2, 2010
Polling places, signs, coffee. The day probably began similarly for campaign workers, polling place workers and candidates across the country. For Republicans, Election Day 2010 meant fulfilling the promise of all those polls of the preceding weeks. For Democrats, the day was about trying to turn back the tide ? or at least stemming it for a candidate or two ? of predicted GOP wins. As candidates and their supporters put in their last big effort, we sought to capture the action. We followed and checked in with several candidates and their campaigns, including Guinta, Rep. Paul Hodes, and former state representative Charlie Bass.
When the results of the day shook out, New Hampshire voters had given the Republican party big wins ? veto-proof majorities in the state House and Senate, both U.S. congressional seats, the up-for-grabs U.S. Senate seat and the entirety of the executive council. Only the governor’s seat stayed in Democratic hands.
Republicans were overwhelmingly successful in New Hampshire and nationally. It’s the third straight midterm election where voters swung hard in one direction or another. With New Hampshire trending more Democratic in demographic studies, the election results show how upset voters are with government, and right now, specifically Democrats.
Coming up on 7 a.m.
While Guinta headed to the Webster School in Manchester to vote, Jeremy Olson stood outside the Parker Varney Elementary School. He was campaigning for his personal friend, John Babiarz, Libertarian candidate for governor.
“We are trying to get 4 percent of the vote,” Olson said. “Then we become an official party and wouldn’t be listed as ‘other.’ John gives us our best shot.”
The tea party movement, the closest thing in 2010 to a third party movement, made waves nationally this season, but it didn’t take hold as much in New Hampshire. Analysts have said the tea party’s social conservatism doesn’t resonate well in the Granite State.
At 6:40 a.m. a pick-up truck overflowing with signs for Democratic candidates rolled into the parking lot and pierced the quiet of the morning. Suddenly, Olson was surrounded by an army of Gov. John Lynch supporters. This army consisted of young men and women in their 20s or at the max their early 30s. One of them was Michael Brunelle, executive director of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, holding a single sign for Lynch.
“I will be helping out all day as well as monitoring results,” Brunelle said. “We expect a good turnout. Election Day is about meeting voters and reaching out for every last vote….”
The executive director of the party doesn’t hold signs at just any old polling place, and sure enough, Lynch arrived. His entrance couldn’t have been any further removed from the rock star persona popularized by President Obama. Lynch, wearing a long overcoat, walked up flanked only by his personal aide. First he greeted his supporters, who stomped their signs in a rhythmic salute. Then he went out of his way to shake hands with every voter entering the school and even asked to pose for a picture with a young girl.
Democrats did particularly well in New Hampshire in 2006 and 2008. The pendulum more than swung back to Republicans this time around.
“This is the third straight case of whiplash in New Hampshire,” said Dante Scala, political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. He added it’s the third straight mid-term election that has seen “a whole generation of legislators wiped out.”
The fact New Hampshire is becoming more balanced politically is contributing to the election swings the state is seeing. When there’s a big wave nationally in one direction, New Hampshire seems to go with the flow, Scala said, adding there will probably be slightly more Republicans than Democrats in New Hampshire now, but that it essentially breaks down to 30 percent Republican, 30 percent Democrat and 40 percent independents.
“There’s no place to hide when the wave comes,” Scala said.
Democratic state senators, such as Maggie Hassan, Peggy Gilmour and Betsi DeVries, were swept away in the red tide. For a while on Tuesday night, it even looked like long-serving state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro might be ousted; in the end, D’Allesandro won by a mere 137 votes over Joe Kelly Levasseur — a stark change from two years ago, when D’Allesandro was reelected by more than 6,500 votes.
“You’re running from an asteroid,” Scala said.
Analysts say the way Republicans interpret their mandate will play a big role in the 2012 election. If Republicans focus too much on social issues, they could get into trouble with independent voters, analysts say.
Earning every vote
At 6:55 a.m. Tuesday, streetlights glowed along the roadway into Milford Middle School. Teachers were trickling into the building. Cars streamed steadily into the parking lot. Twenty or so bundled-up supporters stood holding signs, sipping coffee and greeting voters with gloved hands.
The voting booths were already busy.
“I’ve seen it when there was no one here at 6 a.m.,” said Cynthia Dokmo, who staged a write-in campaign for state representative. “It’s going to be an interesting election all around.”
Dokmo, who had been a longtime legislator before losing in the GOP primary in September, spent the day shuttling back and forth between two locations. She had about 50 people holding signs and offering handouts on how to fill in a write-in ballot.
Gary Daniels, a campaign chairman for gubernatorial candidate John Stephen, was at the front of the line in Milford with a graph indicating how much government spending has risen during Lynch’s tenure. Daniels was expecting to be at his post for 14 hours.
“This time around, it’s certainly a team effort,” Daniels said of the overall GOP push in New Hampshire. “We’re all kind of pulling as a team. If the polls are correct, this could be a near-record turnout.”
Nearing 7:15 a.m., 2nd District congressional candidate Charlie Bass arrived to meet voters in Milford. Going into Tuesday, Bass was one of two Republicans (the other was John Stephen) that some political watchers thought might not be a part of the GOP tide. In the end, Bass would squeak out a 48 percent to 46 percent win against Ann McLane Kuster.
Outside Milford Middle School, students began to gather as the day began to brighten.
Bass took his time working his way along the line of sign holders. He stopped to chat with a man who assured Bass he had his vote. A few minutes later, school buses arrived and traffic backed up at the middle school.
Back in Manchester, 1st District Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter stood, devoid of any entourage, by the entrance of the Parker Varney school.
“I’m not nervous at all,” Shea-Porter said. “You’re always a little tired but I seem to get calm on Election Day. I —”
Shea-Porter, who ultimately lost handily to Guinta, was interrupted by a man clad in a fringed-leather vest holding small American flags. He was literally galloping in to vote shouting, “It is a great day to be an American!”
“— I feel like that,” Shea-Porter said.
Shea-Porter said she was proud of all she has accomplished during her four years in Washington, which she described as critical years for the country. She said her time inside the Beltway also had increased her appreciation for New Hampshire.
“When I get on the plane to come home every weekend, I can’t fly fast enough,” Shea-Porter said.
“I’m grateful for every person who shows up,” Shea-Porter said of the voters arriving Tuesday morning. “Whether you vote for me or against me, this is the time to have your say.” She said she grew up in a Republican family and remembers holding signs for the other side. This was one of the reasons she was so upset about the many negative ads. “There has been a disgusting influence of outside money,” Shea-Porter said. “You can’t buy New Hampshire voters but they sure tried.”
Shea-Porter’s phone rang. It was her mother.
“I’m proud of you too,” Shea-Porter said into the phone. She advised her mother to take a nap that afternoon as her election night party wasn’t going to start until 8 p.m. When she hung up she was beaming. Her mother is 87 and had been hospitalized with pneumonia until a week earlier. But nothing would keep her away from supporting her daughter on her big day.
The takeaway for Democrats
“For the last 10 years, all politics is not local, it’s actually pretty national,” said political analyst Dean Spiliotes, a political science professor at Southern New Hampshire University. “This was as big of a wave as people might have expected.”
The wave ? this year’s metaphor of choice ?washed away all the major-race Democrats in New Hampshire (Shea-Porter, Kuster, senate candidate Paul Hodes) except Lynch. Now he and U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen are the state’s two remaining statewide or federal office-holding Democrats. Neither is thought of as very progressive; they are seen more as centrist-type Democrats, Spiliotes said.
“The question for Democrats is who is going to lead the party going forward,” Spiliotes said.
Ray Buckley, state Democratic party chairman, told the Union Leader this week he was planning to seek a third two-year term.
If there is a bright spot for the Democrats, it’s that voters aren’t in love with Republicans either. A national Gallup poll in September found Republicans in Congress held a 32-percent approval rating, compared to a 33-percent rate for Democrats.
“Just like nationally, I don’t know that voters are sold on Republicans,” Scala said. “They wanted to give the other team a chance.”
“Lately in New Hampshire, you just don’t know what’s around the corner,” Scala said.
Democrats have said the election failure was due to tactical and strategic errors, rather than a policy failure, that they just didn’t get their information out to voters effectively, Spiliotes said.
“I don’t think it was strictly a messaging issue,” Spiliotes said. “It’s more complicated than that.”
Morning in Nashua
At the Main Dunstable Elementary School in Nashua Tuesday morning, supporters were saying the turnout was strong with 490 people having voted by 8:20 a.m. While voters were trickling in slowly at that time, workers said voters had lined up in front of the building prior to polls’ opening.
The Secretary of State’s office reported 456,726 voters cast ballots in the gubernatorial race this year, compared to 682,584 voters in 2008, which was a presidential election year. The turnout this year was a record for a non-presidential year. Voters cast 30,285 ballots in Manchester, a 46-percent turnout.
Chris Cronin, who held signs for state representative candidate Kevin Brown, was in the middle of a three-and-a-half-hour sign-holding shift. The Dracut, Mass., resident said Brown was a long-time friend.
The scene was busier at Bicentennial Elementary School in Nashua. One thing hadn’t changed early on.
“Cold,” said Judy Brown, who held two signs for successful Republican state senate candidate Gary Lambert while donning a winter hat, gloves and a heavy overcoat.
She said some voters and passersby waved their support or offered a thumbs-up. She laughed and said others have expressed their, presumably, opposing points of view. Lambert, who ultimately won his race against incumbent state Sen. Bette Lasky, had a particularly heavy sign presence at Bicentennial School. Brown was slated to hold signs from 8 to 10 am. and then for a couple more hours in the afternoon. She’d then swing back in to help close things up, she said.
Voters made their way to Hillside Middle School in Manchester at 9:45 a.m. as several people jogged in nearby Derryfield Park. Billy Pappas, whose wife Toni was running for county commissioner, said turnout was strong. Pappas had already spent time holding signs in two different polling locations.
State Sen. David Boutin (who won his race) stood outside the school greeting voters. Boutin had previously visited polls in Hooksett. Boutin said voters were tired of budget deficits, government spending and rising taxes.
Media members gathered at the school as 10 a.m. neared. John Stephen was scheduled to cast his vote. The crowd at Hillside began chanting “Stephen, Stephen,” as Stephen’s black SUV pulled into the lot. Flanked by his wife, family and campaign staff, Stephen greeted the crowd one at a time before heading inside.
Stephen, who was surging in the polls leading up to Election Day, told reporters and supporters that he was going to press on right to the end.
“The people feel we need a change,” said Bobby Stephen, John’s father and a former Democratic state senator. He recalled his successful run against a 24-year incumbent; at that time, voters wanted a change. He had that same feeling this year on Election Day morning. “They just want to try something a little different.”
Bobby’s son walked out of the school to more chants.
“I feel energized by John,” Bobby Stephen said.
John Stephen had neared to within the margin of error in polls released in the previous few days.
“I’m so encouraged by the optimism...,” Stephen said. “I’m very encouraged. I’ve been feeling this for the last few weeks.”
A few minutes later as photographers snapped photos of Stephen with his family and supporters, he took out a pen and told the crowd, “I’ve got my veto pen out.”
Stephen was the first candidate in three elections to give Lynch a run for his money. Stephen pushed Lynch hard, but it was an uphill battle from the start, as the centrist Lynch maintained a stronghold on popularity.
Lynch, the lone bright spot for Democrats on his way to a record fourth term, has been in the public eye for six years. He’s a well-known commodity, unlike Hodes, Shea-Porter or Kuster. Lynch’s race was about him ? voters weren’t riding his coattails down the ballot. It seems clear that a lot of voters checked Lynch off and then went straight Republican the rest of the way down, Scala said.
Earlier that morning, Pamela Walsh, Lynch’s campaign manager, who had been with Lynch since 2004, was operating on two hours of sleep and a steady diet of adrenaline and coffee. Regardless of the election’s outcome, she needed to pick her dog up the following morning. The dog had been in boarding since Saturday and Walsh was eager to get it back.
Lynch was eager to stay in office, but not for historical reasons ? because he felt he was needed.
“I’m not doing it for any historical significance,” Lynch said. “I want to navigate New Hampshire through these tough times.”
“I woke up early this morning and love getting out and meeting people,” Lynch said, as he excused himself to shake a voter’s hand. “I’ve always been a people person,” Lynch said, returning with a smile. “Even when I was in the private sector.”
When asked if this would be the last time New Hampshire voters would see his name on a ballot, Lynch grinned from ear to ear.
“Let’s get through today,” he said, as he walked away.
Lynch and the GOP legislative agenda
“It seemed like voters were OK with Lynch but they’re unhappy with what’s going on in Concord and they took that out on somebody and that somebody was probably their state senator,” Scala said.
“Sometimes, just like Obama, it’s difficult having a majority in your own party in the legislature,” Scala said of Lynch. “Certainly the Democratic legislature did force Lynch to make decisions he did not want to make. Gay marriage ... he did not want to see that on his desk.”
“Lynch tends to get along with Republicans,” Scala said. “I can imagine in some ways he’s freed up.”
He’s also the only thing standing between Republicans and the repeal of say, same-sex marriage legislation if the Republicans decide to turn their attention from fiscal issues to social issues.
“It’s not up to [Lynch],” said Fergus Cullen, former state GOP chairman. Cullen added Republican leaders can decide whether they want to work with Lynch or not. Republicans need 267 votes to have a veto-proof majority in the state House of Representatives. The GOP will hold 297 seats come the first session in January.
How Republicans interpret their mandate is the big question, Spiliotes said, as well as how Democrats regroup in the coming months.
“A lot depends on the legislative leadership,” Scala said. “How to keep everyone on the reservation.... Some are social conservatives. When you have a majority ... victory has a thousand fathers. They all think they are responsible and that their issues are responsible for the victory.”
Cullen said he thought social issues would be secondary.
Along with GOP majorities in the state House and Senate, Lynch must contend with an all Republican Executive Council.
“Republicans are really the ones in the position to not quite dictate, but [Lynch] can’t make any appointments without consent of the Council,” Cullen said.
But there might be less pressure on the governor now.
“He and Republicans are on the same page in a number of areas,” Spiliotes said. “The pledge, no income or sales tax, everybody wants to cut spending. I think now Republicans can step up to the plate and take the pressure off Lynch. ... It’s not all just on Lynch and the Democrats. The Republicans now have a stake in solving the budget problem that they haven’t had before.”
Spiliotes said the budget and economic issues are sure to be at the forefront, but if Lynch and Republicans hit a stalemate on the budget, people could see legislation to repeal same-sex marriage appear. He figured some social issues would come up. Spiliotes said Peter Bragdon, the new Senate president, has said he wants to focus on fiscal issues.
“It doesn’t mean it won’t come up, but I don’t think it’s what initially drives the party,” Spiliotes said. “It’s a way to get into trouble with independent voters.”
Taking nothing for granted
While Lynch was shaking hands, all was quiet in Concord. Former Republican and now Democrat Jim MacKay held a sign outside St. Peter’s Parish Hall at about 9:20 a.m. MacKay is a political veteran, having served a decade in the state legislature and as mayor of Concord.
“It [voter turnout] has been steady,” MacKay said. “I’ve seen years where it’s been slower and years where it’s been much more.”
It was pretty slow just a few feet down North State Street at Democratic Party headquarters. Through the door marked “phoners,” there were no phones ringing. Two workers, one eating an apple, the other a bagel, chatted casually about where they lived ? behind the Walmart in Somersworth. A young man in skinny jeans with an empty hole in each ear lobe said the press secretary, Harrell Kirstein, was in Manchester and so no one could talk about how things were shaping up.
“It’s a busy day,” he said.
With campaign signs and pamphlets strewn on the floor and tables at Guinta headquarters in Manchester, 10 or so people worked the phones as the clock neared 11:30 a.m.
Sean Thomas, political director for the Guinta campaign, said workers were making tens of thousands of calls. The campaign was also providing rides to voters who needed them.
“We’re more than cautiously optimistic,” Thomas said. “We’re thinking victory, but we’re not taking anything for granted.”
Guinta was keeping to a lengthy schedule Tuesday of hitting polling places mainly in the greater Manchester area. His wife, Morgan, was off on her own tour of 1st District communities in the Rochester area.
“There’s a lot of intensity today,” Thomas said.
Scala said Shea-Porter did well within Manchester but Guinta cleaned up in the Republican communities along Route 101 toward the seacoast.
“The city [Manchester] is a little harder to figure out sometimes,” Thomas said on Election Day.
It was a busy day for U.S. Senate candidate and sitting 2nd District congressman Paul Hodes, who, despite the Nov. 1 UNH poll showing he trailed Kelly Ayotte by 18 points, was working hard.
Outside Hillside Middle School in Manchester at about 11:30 a.m., Hodes was being interviewed by Lauren Collins of NECN. Hodes echoed Shea-Porter and said the campaign had been marked by the avalanche of money coming from out of state supporting his opposition. Hodes was concerned the negative and false advertisements might turn off younger voters.
It was an equally busy day for Collins, who said she was visiting several polling places, then going to Nashua to get word on the Steven Spader trial, before attending a political party that night — most likely Ayotte’s. In the middle of it all, she got a message from her producer asking her to confirm that two people had been shot in Pittsburg.
As Hodes was chatting with Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas (a Republican), Ayotte arrived. The two quickly and awkwardly shook hands before Hodes left. As Ayotte went through the line of sign-holders there was an influx of energy.
Someone shouted, “Kelly Ayotte is in the house!” Wearing Nike batting gloves, Ayotte signed a supporter’s T-shirt. Another fan yelled, “God bless you! God bless you!”
“The campaign was challenging but the best part was meeting all the wonderful people out on the trail — people who care about what happens in New Hampshire,” Ayotte said.
Asked if she was an avid runner, as portrayed in campaign ads that proclaimed “She was running for us,” Ayotte said she used to cycle but it took too long. Collins said Ayotte was still running as if she were behind in the senatorial race.
Mayor Gatsas was loving life without a race.
“This is the first time in 11 years I haven’t been out campaigning,” said Gatsas, who had been in the state Senate for nine years when he was elected mayor last year. “It’s a little less nerve-wracking .... The two questions I always get are when is the Market Basket opening and is the Chilifest coming back? There will be a ground-breaking soon and conversations for Chilifest are already happening.”
About noon, Hodes, wearing a baseball cap and a winter jacket over his red fleece, was shaking hands at the Rines Center. When the sun peeked out from behind a cloud he exclaimed, “The sun’s out.”
Just after noon in Nashua, Bass was relaxed. A veteran of many an Election Day, he stood talking with supporters at the Broad Street Elementary School. He said he was trying to hit every ward in Nashua on Election Day. He said the “golden triangle” for him was the area between Nashua, Atkinson and his hometown of Peterborough.
“I feel great,” he said. “It’s looking like a good turnout and I think that’s good for me.”
Bass’s race with Kuster had been neck and neck leading into Election Day, but Bass was more interested in thanking supporters than in recruiting votes Tuesday.
“You’re not going to change people’s minds at this point,” Bass said. “Maybe some will see me and maybe vote for me.”
He said people have spent months helping him and it’s important to interact with his supporters. Later that night, during his victory speech, he called his staff the the best campaign team he’s ever had.
Guinta, meeting with supporters at Jewett Street School in Manchester an hour or so later, listened intently to supporters.
“This is what we’ve worked for,” said Brett Bosse, Guinta’s campaign spokesman, while he held signs.
“There’s a great feeling out there,” Guinta said, adding he was still looking to earn as many votes as possible. “I’ve enjoyed this. I love it.”
Matt House wanted people to know the Democratic Party had made half a million phone calls leading up to voting. House, Hodes’ campaign manager, could be mistaken for one of the young voters Hodes was worried about losing. Having interned with Hodes while in college, House has spent years by the congressman’s side. He was not overly concerned about the polls.
“Ask the White House about the polls and they’ll tell you how unreliable New Hampshire polls are,” House said. “Obama was up 12 points the day before the primary and then lost to Clinton by 4 points.”
While he was talking, House was also working his Blackberry. Quickly, he told Hodes it was time to go.
At 1 p.m. the lunch crowd at the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester was swarming. The small seating area was packed and the counter was crowded with patrons and Bryan Thomas and Ray Duckler of the Concord Monitor. The two waitresses were discussing their own stimulus plan.
“Leave a $100 bill on the counter and we’ll split it between the two of us,” the waitress named Andrea told the customer whose bill was $10. People were laughing. Hodes walked in.
Hodes dove into a conversation with two elderly men at the counter. Hodes introduced himself and said he was running for U.S. Senate.
“Who you running against?” one of the men asked.
“Someone named Ayotte,” Hodes answered.
“Well then you got my vote,” the man, a retired postal worker, said. “Although I haven’t voted yet.”
Eight to 10 workers in the aptly named GOP Victory office in Bedford were busy on the phones Tuesday afternoon. Andy Leach, state GOP executive director, said turnout had been strong across the board. Callers reported “wildly positive” responses throughout the day.
With phone systems down Monday, the GOP was taking no chances. Leach pointed to a mass of charging cell phones, ready in case the system went down again. Reports indicated Comcast’s phone system was overloaded Monday afternoon by the many political calls throughout New England.
Kathy Gillett was doing everything in her power to make sure everyone voted. Beginning at 2 p.m., she would spend the better part of the evening canvassing neighborhoods near her Union Street home. She would knock on the doors of people identified as Democratic voters and ask if they had voted. Her charts had a surprising amount of information, including name, address, age, sex and how many times the person voted in the last three elections.
This late in the game, there wasn’t a lot of time for persuasion. Political fatigue had set in and people seemed to want it to be over. Gillett had spent many Saturdays knocking on doors; on average she knocked on 90 doors and talked with maybe 30 people. But it was work, for the first time in her life, she found critically important.
Gillett came late to political activism. She had never worked on a campaign prior to Obama. She was living in London when she read his book.
“I had always heard the way my mother talked about John Kennedy,” Gillett said. “I felt that way about Obama.”
She began by fundraising, but when she moved back to New Hampshire she took to the streets.
“At first I was really bad at it,” Gillett said about canvassing neighborhoods. “But I learned as much as I could about the issues. I still believe in Obama’s ability to transform this country and his genuine commitment to people who have been previously voiceless.”
John Stonner was standing at the end of his driveway and proudly told Gillett he had voted. Although most polls were open for another five hours, Stonner wasn’t optimistic about the Democrats’ chances.
“If the Republicans sweep the election they will have taught us three things,” Stonner said. “They can steal an election, start a war and buy an election.”
Gillett has seen some crazy things while knocking on doors. Once a man yelled at her and said he was getting his gun. Another time a 97-year-old woman, who was listening to jazz music, mistook Gillett for her date.
“She was 97!” Gillett said. “I would have thought she was joking but her date showed up while I was there.”
Gillett canvassed her way through Lancelot Avenue, Arthur Avenue and Camelot Drive. On Election Day things were pretty quiet. One woman said she hadn’t voted yet but her husband was taking her to the polls later that day. She said she’d had surgery that morning but was still voting. Gillett said healthy people who don’t vote have no excuse.
All was quiet on Elm Street in Manchester Tuesday evening. No sign-holders gathered at major intersections. Voters still trickled into the Rines Center in Manchester, where Long and Thibault still stood.
By 7:30 p.m. supporters had begun to fill up the Guinta election night party, as two projection screens displayed NECN’s election night coverage while U2 blared in the background. Supporters cheered as the first round of results came in just a minute after 8 p.m.
The early returns showed Guinta with 52 percent of the vote to Shea-Porter’s 44, with just a small portion of ballots counted. Chants of “Go, Frank, Go,” filled the conference room at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester. Supporters echoed an annoyed “Oh” when NECN inadvertently skipped over the Guinta results a few minutes later.
Campaign workers and politicos had their smart phones on overdrive. They ran in and out of the party, taking calls and checking results.
The thrill of victory…
The Associated Press called the gubernatorial race for Lynch just three minutes after the final polls closed. Lynch had won Manchester, which is Stephen’s hometown, and that more or less handed the race to Lynch. Soon after, the senate race was called for Ayotte.
The atmosphere was low-key at Hodes’ party when the doors opened at 7:30 p.m. It was in the IBEW Hall in Concord. At the back of the room was a stage and a podium, where Hodes would ultimately give his concession speech. Hanging from the ceiling were an American flag, a New Hampshire state flag and an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers flag. There was a spread of meatballs, vegetables and little salami pinwheels. Coca-Cola cost $2 at the cash bar.
Most of the people there were young campaign workers and they mulled nervously around television sets. CNN and MSNBC broadcast early results: 61 percent Ayotte, 36 percent for Hodes. Most people turned away. Mark Bergman figured official results would be in well before 10 p.m.
Bergman is from Richmond, Va., and is a 2004 graduate of William & Mary. He described himself as a professional pollster who had already worked on a number of campaigns. When asked why Hodes didn’t run for re-election in his congressional seat and instead went for Judd Gregg’s vacant spot in the Senate, Bergman said it was an opportunity — senate seats are rarely open and Hodes believed he could accomplish more as a senator.
A roar went up at the Guinta party when the announcement came in that Tom DeBlois was declared the winner in his District 18 state senate race against incumbent state Sen. Betsi DeVries, D-Manchester. Having not gotten the word that the gubernatorial race had been called for Lynch, Guinta supporters cheered when the Lynch-Stephen race crossed the board as 49-49.
“We’re having a nice time tonight, aren’t we?” one Guinta supporter said.
By about 9:15 p.m. the race was called for Guinta.
Guinta won big along the Route 101 corridor east of Manchester and won tight races in some bellwether communities such as Barrington, Rye and Strafford.
“Shea-Porter just couldn’t make that up,” Scala said. “She fell victim to exactly what propelled her to victory in 2006. She came in with the wave and then she went out with the wave.”
Shea-Porter, who has been known for her strong grassroots network, probably still had a strong one on Election Day, but Scala said when a candidate is polling in the low 40-percent range, a good campaign just isn’t enough to get from 41 to 50 percent.
“Democrats were mildly enthusiastic about Shea-Porter’s voting record,” Scala said. “But Republicans were seeing red.”
One Guinta campaigner who was working his cell phone throughout the evening jumped down three stairs outside the party entrance and yelled an emphatic “Yes,” as he’d presumably gotten word of Guinta’s win.
A few minutes later at Guinta’s party, supporters were backslapping and shaking hands with Chris Sununu, who was declared the victor in his Executive Council race against incumbent Beverly Hollingworth.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Regina Birdsell, a victorious state representative candidate and Guinta supporter.
Birdsell looked back on the long campaign season.
“It was grueling going door to door this summer in 95-degree heat,” she laughed.
Republicans were clearly hungry for a clean sweep. They nearly got it. But Birdsell said, while she was happy and excited for Republicans, she was disappointed for Stephen, who came so close.
Birdsell said the message was clear for Republicans: “If you vote to bring a new tax, we’re not going to vote for you again. We’ve got our marching orders.”
…the agony of defeat
At least Will Dubreuil of Quebec, Canada, was enjoying the Hodes party. Dubreuil is a business consultant and participates in Mission Leadership, a Canadian program that sends young leaders to different countries to learn about their political processes. Dubreuil was interested in the Tea Party Express rally from the night before. He said there’s nothing like that in Canada. Dubreuil talked about health care and education. It was quiet conversation in a quiet room. The largest television was turned to WMUR but the news station wasn’t on yet and Dancing with the Stars was playing. Rick Fox was being interviewed when Hodes, holding his wife Peggo’s hand, walked out. People in attendance erupted with chants of “Hoooooooooooodes!”
Hodes gave a gracious concession speech and told everyone to “send her [Ayotte] off with our good wishes and congratulations on a job well done.” Hodes said it had been an unbelievable honor to serve the state as a U.S. Representative. Clearly choking up, he thanked his staff for always making sure New Hampshire came first. He said he had no regrets.
“The greatest courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart,” Hodes said.
“This fight is not over,” Hodes said. “It has just begun. A new campaign starts tomorrow.”
There was an eruption from the crowd and the energy changed. It culminated when Hodes leaned into the microphone and said, “Now, ladies and gentlemen, let’s party!”
Music kicked in and hugs went around. Some people cried, but overall the atmosphere was positive.
“I have won races and I’ve lost them,” Hodes said. “I would much rather win.”
Even in defeat there was still fire in his eyes.
“In some way I hope to continue to serve,” Hodes said. “To continue helping us rebuild, to move forward. We’re talking about critical...” Hodes hesitated, looking for a word that conveyed just how important he believed the issues of the day are. “... fundamentals for our nation. The Republicans have given us no answers.”
“I loved my work and helping people,” Hodes said.
Will he run again?
“Anything is possible,” Hodes said.
Hodes proved that by grabbing his guitar and joining his son, Max, in a jam session. Defeat quickly became a party. It was truly dancing with the political stars. Finally WMUR was on the large television and Ayotte was giving her victory speech. A female Hodes supporter shut the television off, waved goodbye to Ayotte and began dancing as Hodes, Max and Peggo rocked out.
Down Interstate 93, Democrats were celebrating their lone bright spot of the night. Lynch’s party was in the Puritan Conference Center in Manchester. Inside, the crowd chanted, “’04, ’06, ’08, ’10, we want John Lynch back again!”
John Stephen had already conceded, and Lynch’s three children, Jacqueline, Julia and Hayden, introduced their father.
“We already know how great a governor he is,” Julia Lynch said. “I’ll tell you how great a father he is.” She shared personal stories that elicited several ohhs and ahhs, and then Lynch came out, as “Put me in, coach, I’m ready to play!” blared from the speakers. Lynch was once again coach of the state.
“Together we’ve made history again,” Lynch began.
In one sentence he thanked Stephen for his efforts, and then he discussed the work he had done and what he intended to do. As he talked, the audience clung to his every word and the only distraction was the constant phone ringing coming from the NHPR table. There was joy but the weight of the day’s losses could be felt. But not by Lynch’s young son, Hayden.
“It was a great win,” Hayden Lynch said. “With all of these Democrats losing, it says a lot about my dad. It was a tough race and it was tough on our family. We never like to see my dad stressed.”
Waiting it out
The scene at the Grappone Center in Concord where Bass and Ayotte had gathered for their parties was substantially different by 10:30 p.m. Ayotte had hours ago been declared the winner in her race. She’d given her victory speech. The crowd was flowing down the hallway from her party to the Bass affair, which was considerably smaller than the Guinta celebration. Supporters watched intently as results ticked off on the single 25-inch television in the corner of the room.
“Come on, Charlie,” said Ayotte as she walked into the Bass party, with state party chairman John Sununu nearby.
Scott Tranchemontagne, Bass’s communications director, took the stage as the clock ticked to 10:45 p.m. He told the crowd Bass was leading by about 4,500 votes, and they applauded.
“This race is not over,” Tranchemontagne told the room. “But we feel pretty comfortable.... We’re giving his opponent an opportunity to check and re-check her numbers.”
Tranchemontagne then departed the stage and took up shop by a large dry erase board on the side of the room, where campaign staff tabulated community-by-community results.
“Everything is headed in the right direction,”
Tranchemontagne told the crowd as the clock neared 11:30 p.m. Soon after, Bass took the stage amid chants of “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie.” Bass graciously commended Kuster on her campaign and her commitment. He acknowledged he thought his political days were over when he lost in 2006. As Bass worked the room following his speech, in which he was flanked by his wife and son, Kuster’s concession speech played on the television in the background.
In the lobby just before midnight, Republican supporters, candidates and officials gathered, drinks in hand, breathing a collective sigh of relief.
Nov. 3 and onward
Republicans are riding high now, just as Democrats were two years ago.
“I think the Republican majorities in the legislature understand they’ve been given a second chance based on fiscal issues and I expect them to keep them front and center,” Cullen said, adding the Republican caucus is going to be somewhat dominated by first-time legislators. “Many of them do not feel they were elected to make compromises with Democrats.”
But stray too far away from the economy and the fiscal concerns dominating people’s worries and the GOP could be served a similar fate as the Democrats got this time around.
“Keep your word, number one,” Cullen said. “Do what you said you were going to do. Focus on fiscal issues. Democrats started losing trust when it seemed like they started pushing agendas ... that seemed to be ideologically driven and not what the people wanted. By focusing on [fiscal issues], that will help cement voters’ trust.”