May 27, 2015
Democrats got some help from Republicans in the past month or so, and it didn’t have anything to do with legislation.
D.J. Bettencourt, the disgraced former House majority leader, resigned last month after news broke that he lied about his involvement in an internship for his law degree with the University of New Hampshire Law School.
Two weeks before that scandal broke, House staffer Bob Mead came under fire for filing for reimbursement for travel to events at which he recruited Republican candidates. Mead has resigned.
“[T]he thing about the Bettencourt scandal is that voters understand it and it’s easy for Democrats to hang this whole culture of corruption in Concord and hang it on what Bettencourt did,” said Dante Scala, University of New Hampshire political science professor.
GOP strategist Michael Dennehy disagreed. “They probably today think the D.J. Bettencourt scandal will help them in the election, but I couldn’t disagree more. It hasn’t affected how the House operates or the Legislature in general,” Dennehy said.
Arnesen said the recent scandals even inspired the Union Leader to question House Speaker William O’Brien’s leadership. If it was an isolated case, the Bettencourt scandal would be nothing, a non-story, Arnesen said, but she didn’t see it as isolated.
“This just adds more arrows to the quiver of the Democratic party,” Arnesen said. “There are so many issues with the speaker, his leadership choices, you’ve got [Mead], his morals, ethics. … The reason why [Rep. Steve Valliancourt, R-Manchester] said ‘seig heil’ [to O’Brien in a recent session] is not because [O’Brien’s] fair and understands the Democratic process. He shouldn’t have used the term .... The words are nuclear — but the point of the words is accurate.”
Bettencourt’s failure, one way or another, reflects on the speaker because it’s his leadership team — a fish rots from the head down, Arnesen said.
U.S. House of Representatives, 1st District
Republican Rep. Frank Guinta (incumbent)
Republican Rick Parent
Democrat Carol Shea-Porter
Democrat Matthew Hancock
Analysts expect Guinta and Shea-Porter to win their primaries. Guinta won easily in a match-up with Shea-Porter, the incumbent at the time, in 2010, in wave election for Republicans. The district leans Republican, but Shea-Porter has a strong grassroots network.
U.S. House of Representatives, 2nd District
Republican Rep. Charlie Bass (incumbent)
Republican Dennis Lamare
Democrat Ann McLane Kuster
This was a close race in 2010 when Kuster and Bass fought for the open congressional seat. Analysts expect a close race again. Bass, who isn’t helped by having a primary challenge, won narrowly in a year when Republicans won just about everything in 2010. The district leans Democratic, and Kuster ran a much-lauded campaign in 2010, but Bass is as close to a household name in New Hampshire as there is.
Democrat Maggie Hassan
Democrat Jackie Cilley
Democrat Bill Kennedy
Republican Ovide Lamontagne
Republican Kevin Smith
Lamontagne has been the presumptive frontrunner in this race ever since he graciously threw his support behind Kelly Ayotte in the 2010 GOP primary for U.S. Senate. Smith is making the switch from advocate to candidate and working hard, but Lamontagne seems to have the support of the GOP establishment. Hassan appears to be trying to position herself politically close to Gov. John Lynch, who has succeeded with a moderate approach. Democrats will try to tie the Republican nominee to what they’re touting as an extremist agenda. How well Democrats make that connection will probably determine the race.
Executive Council District 4
Republican Tom DeBlois
Republican Chuck Rolecek
Republican Bob Burns
Democrat Chris Pappas
This is perhaps the marquee race for Executive Council. Longtime councilor and former Manchester Mayor Ray Wieczorek is retiring. DeBlois is a Manchester state senator, and Rolecek a well-known restaurant owner (Hanover Street Chophouse). Burns is Hillsborough County treasurer. Pappas is a former state representative and is co-owner of the Puritan Backroom in Manchester.
Executive Council District 2
Democrat Colin Van Ostern
Van Ostern managed Ann McLane Kuster’s nearly successful congressional campaign in 2010. Look for Van Ostern to generate excitement in the progressive base. Thanks to redistricting, the district is now heavily Democratic. Republican incumbent Dan St. Hilaire is not running again.
Executive Council District 5
Republican David Wheeler (incumbent)
Democrat Debora Pignatelli
Pignatelli, who lost to Wheeler in her re-election bid in 2010, hinted she’d run again right after the 2010 elections, so it’s no surprise she’s in the race.
State Senate District 20
Democrat Lou D’Allesandro
Republican Phil Greazzo
Republican John Hikel
It’s difficult to picture D’Allesandro losing his longtime Senate seat, but he nearly lost in 2010. Greazzo is a Manchester alderman and state representative, and Hikel is a state representative who recently got in some hot water for controversial comments.
State Senate District 7
Democrat Andrew Hosmer
Republican Josh Youssef
Republican Bill Grimm
Hosmer bowed out of the 1st District congressional race to run for this seat.
Senate District 12
Republican Jim Luther (incumbent)
Democrat Peg Gilmour
These two candidates matched up for this Senate seat in 2010 as well.
Senate District 16
Republican David Boutin (incumbent)
Democrat Kathleen Kelley
Boutin won a special election for the District 16 seat early in 2010, then beat Kelley in the 2010 general election.
Senate District 18
Republican George Lambert
Democrat Donna Soucy
This could be an interesting open race. Lambert is a state rep, and Soucy is a Manchester school board member.
New Hampshire knows how to swing.
Following the 2008 election, New Hampshire Republicans were left with their heads down after widespread defeats. Yes, Republicans actually picked up some seats in a Democrat-dominated state House of Representatives, but otherwise, blue was the only color in sight. Democratic Gov. John Lynch had just won a third term, then-Reps. Carol Shea Porter and Paul Hodes had each won re-election, and former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen beat incumbent Republican John E. Sununu in a race for the U.S. Senate. Democrats held majorities in the state House and Senate, and they had just won the presidency. Then-Sen. Judd Gregg was the lone remaining major Republican in New Hampshire. All of a sudden, New Hampshire was a blue state, or so it might have seemed.
But the GOP didn’t keep its head down long. New leadership mobilized. State GOP chairman Fergus Cullen was out, and former governor and White House chief of staff John H. Sununu took over. The political tone changed, helped by the passing of the federal health care reform bill, which angered and energized Republicans. Two years following the 2008 election, in what can only be described as an angry election for the GOP, Republicans in New Hampshire won back more seats than they’d lost in the previous two elections. They took the state’s two congressional seats. They held Gregg’s Senate seat, with Kelly Ayotte beating Hodes easily. They won all five Executive Council seats. They took hold of the House and Senate by nearly unprecedented majorities. The only Democrat left standing in major office was Lynch, a moderate Democrat. Now it was Democrats who had their heads down, and all they saw was red.
“Lately in New Hampshire, you just don’t know what’s around the corner,” said Dante Scala, University of New Hampshire political science professor, just after the 2010 elections, which he referred to as the third straight “whiplash” election in New Hampshire.
Up For Grabs
In 2006 and in 2008, Democrats, fueled by outrage over the Bush administration, began picking off Republicans left and right. When the dust settled after the 2008 election, Democrats controlled the governor’s office, state Senate and state House of Representatives. During the same period, reports began to emerge from demographers at the University of New Hampshire Carsey Center suggesting the Granite State, once a GOP stronghold, was becoming more Democrat. Nobody was calling it a blue state, but Democrats were riding high.
And then in 2010, they fell so far in New Hampshire.
Democrats didn’t lick their wounds for long either, but they didn’t make any dramatic changes in leadership following the 2010 election. State party Chairman Ray Buckley remained in charge. Executive Director Michael Brunelle held his post, though he has since moved on to a job in Pennsylvania. Democrats remained largely quiet for much of 2011. But, slowly, candidates began to emerge and Republicans began to make some moves in New Hampshire that angered Democrats and only helped their cause. Just how big an opportunity lies at the feet of Democrats now remains to be seen.
“Being out of power is itself a mobilizer,” Scala said. “It’s always the party out of power that tends to be hungrier than the party in power.”
No one is predicting a wild swing in this year’s election, and no analysts are predicting the same type of voter animosity we had in 2010, but analysts expect Democrats to make some gains. There is still a lot of time between now and the election this fall, but story lines and campaign narratives are taking shape.
More than in quite some time, this election appears to be largely up for grabs.
Pundits agree: The economy and jobs are going to be at the heart of this election.
“I believe all the campaigns, generally, will be connected by way of the top of the ticket,” said Michael Dennehy, a Republican strategist who advised Sen. John McCain in his presidential runs in 2000 and 2008. “The bottom line is this: If Mitt Romney is successful in making it a referendum on the president, he and many other Republicans will win. If President Obama is more successful in making it more about Mitt Romney and his perceived flaws and Mitt Romney at any level, then the Democrats will have great success on election day.”
“There is always this chance there might be some sort of late-breaking event in foreign affairs…,” Scala said. “We don’t know in that respect. But barring some unexpected event or surprise, this will be about the economy and the direction of the country. That will be the lion’s share of what’s on voters’ minds.”
Perhaps there will be a string of positive economic news stories. That would leave Americans more upbeat about their own prospects by Labor Day, which could lead to a fairly easy win for Obama. But perhaps the economy will stall out. Perhaps there will be a double-dip recession. If that happens, voters are likely to sour on Obama, and then that could give Romney a fairly easy victory, Scala said.
It could be that simple. But right now, the economic news is somewhere between good and bad.
New Hampshire has done a little better economically than the rest of the country, and voters should expect candidates to talk about how they will promote the state’s business climate, said political analyst Dean Spiliotes. But for Democrats, that seems secondary to pointing out where GOP leadership, particularly House leadership, has gone too far on social issues.
“I think it’s a two-pronged narrative,” Spiliotes said, “a discussion about the economy and that the state Legislature has moved too far to the right.”
“Typically the rule of thumb [is that] social issues fracture the Republican base in New Hampshire and fiscal issues fracture the Democratic base,” Scala said. “2010 was about fiscal matters, the deficit, debts. ... That tends to unify and draw independents to the GOP side and demoralize and divide Democrats. But to the extent that social issues like abortion, contraception, perhaps even gay marriage, if [Democrats] can frame the GOP as the socially conservative party, to that extent it is not a plus for Republicans in New Hampshire. It doesn’t draw independents to their side. It tends to energize Democrats and especially women voters.”
The Republican leadership in the House has been aggressive with its conservative agenda — and it can argue it earned the right to be aggressive, Scala said, “But there is a possibility that voters might feel, ‘OK, that’s enough,’”
Buckley said Democrats are polling well in New Hampshire, and he said that has a lot to do with the party’s strong leadership in Lynch and Obama but is also tied to pushback against the Republican agenda. Republicans voted to eliminate the minimum wage in New Hampshire, one of the most popular issues in the state. Lawmakers also voted to decrease the tobacco tax at a time when the state was in dire need of revenue.
“[Republicans’] priorities are out of line. Democrats’ priorities are in line with the majority of New Hampshire,” Buckley said.
Democrats this year will attack House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, for being out of the mainstream. They have said that while Republicans should have been focusing on the state economy and the business climate, they were instead focusing on social issues, like gay marriage, abortion and contraception, Spiliotes said.
“It’s certainly energized them,” Spiliotes said. “It certainly seems like they have an opportunity to close the gap in the House. I don’t know that they’ll get back either chamber, but they’ll certainly do away with the veto-proof majority. I think Democrats can capitalize on the feeling that the Legislature has gone too far.”
A key barometer is how well Democrats recruit for races down the ticket, particularly for House and Senate. The job of state legislator pays $100 a year, so more candidates means more enthusiasm, Scala said.
So far — it’s still early — Democrats have recruited a strong field of candidates, including former state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark and former executive councilor Beverly Hollingworth. There are a lot of races to watch.
Colin Van Ostern, who managed Anne McLane Kuster’s nearly successful congressional campaign in 2010, lined up to challenge Executive Councilor Dan St. Hilaire, who announced this week he would not seek re-election. Debora Pignatelli is running against Executive Councilor Dan Wheeler to try to reclaim a seat on the Council. Longtime Manchester Sen. Lou D’Allesandro is running for re-election, and though his re-election bid in 2010 was close, Democrats have to be happy to see him run once again. Former state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark is running again, as is Andrew Hosmer, who is vying for the District 7 Senate seat. Former state Sen. Peg Gilmour is challenging Sen. Jim Luther in the District 12 Senate race.
A race to watch is the District 4 Executive Council race, in which Hanover Street Chophouse owner Chuck Rolecek, Manchester Sen. Tom DeBlois and Hillsborough County Treasurer Bob Burns are vying for the GOP nomination, with Democrat Chris Pappas, a former state representative, waiting to take on the winner. Councilor Ray Wieczorek is retiring after a long run in politics.
“These are really good candidates,” said Arnie Arnesen, a liberal-leaning pundit. “They’re well-known. They have strong access to cash. … I think they’ve got some strong articulate candidates, nobody who is going to embarrass themselves or the party. I think the list is very strong. On the other hand, Republicans have a lot to worry about.”
But for Arnesen, it’s not just who is running, it’s that candidates seem committed to their races. They aren’t running because party officials begged them to. They are not just filling a ticket. “They are definitely in this to win,” Arnesen said. “It’s going to be exciting.”
Buckley said candidate recruitment has never been better.
“Bill O’Brien is the greatest recruitment tool the New Hampshire Democratic Party has ever had,” Buckley said, adding that candidates are coming forward asking if they can run. The aggressiveness of the House, in particular, should be a motivating factor for Democrats, especially unions. New Hampshire is not a powerful union state, but unions have taken a lot of hits in the last two years and Scala expects them to be mobilized this year. He also expects women’s groups to be motivated.
Two recent scandals in the House aren’t helping Republicans. Former House majority leader D.J. Bettencourt recently resigned after it was discovered he lied about participating in an internship this past semester. And former House staffer Bob Mead resigned after news broke that he was reimbursed, with taxpayer dollars, for travel expenses to events to recruit GOP candidates.
There is an opportunity for Democrats, but will they seize it? Arnesen wondered.
“It’s never easy. Democrats are lazy. They’re afraid,” Arnesen said. “Sometimes you can smell fear when you’re around Democrats, rather than them recognizing their ability. Sometimes they don’t see what’s in front of them.”
The history of the state is decidedly more red than blue. That Democrats held control of the state from 2006 to 2010 was more a blip on the radar. Arnesen said Democrats have to show that Republicans were irrational as leaders, but she believes Republicans have already laid the foundation for that.
“I do expect there is going to be, assuming the economy keeps going along the way it is, some kind of correction, a regression to the mean,” Scala said. “Given the composition of voters in the state, in terms of numbers of Democrats and Republicans, there is no way the legislature should be three-to-one Republican. There should be some natural correction.”
Spiliotes expects Democrats to pick up seats in the House and maybe a few in the Senate, and he figures Democrats have a 50-50 shot at the governor’s office this year, he said.
Dennehy agrees it is unlikely Republicans will keep their veto-proof majorities.
“If anyone says that in January 2013 Republicans will be sitting on majorities that are just as big, then they’d be lying,” Dennehy said. “It would take a national scandal with President Obama for Republicans to hold onto those supermajorities. I think Republicans will win back the majority, but it will be modest.”
While Democrats are going to try to paint the Legislature as going too far the past two years, GOP lawmakers have to try to make the case to their own base that they went far enough.
“That’s certainly the challenge of the Republican party today,” Dennehy said. “I do believe they have had enough success to run on and they’ve proved to voters that they should be re-elected.”
But Republicans hold seats in a number of typically more Democratic districts.
“New Hampshire is not super Republican. It’s right of center for sure, but that means there will be a correction,” Dennehy said. “Especially given that this is a presidential election year and that the presidential election will be very close, probably as close as 2000.”
Health care reform legislation became a mobilizing influence for Republicans in 2010. In turn, Democrats took a beating in the mid-term election. But, Spiliotes said, that’s a different electorate than a presidential race.
“New Hampshire is not an island,” Scala said. “The last couple elections, New Hampshire is a swing state that leans slightly Democratic.”
Still, New Hampshire voters are known for their independent streak. Take 2010: Republicans were winning everything, but Lynch won re-election for governor. Results indicated that a lot of voters must have picked Lynch and then chosen Republican after Republican as they worked their way down the ballot.
Scala thought it was notable so many Republicans opted against running again for state Senate. A handful of senators chose not to run again.
“I’d ask what they are running away from,” Arnesen said.
In a lot of ways it has been an exhausting year for senators. Senate President Peter Bragdon steered the ship as clear as possible from social issues as he could, but as Arnesen said, “you can’t put 1,000 bills on the table.” Arnesen figured through largely no fault of its own the Senate would be lumped in with the House on election day.
“The Senate tried over and over again to kill bills…,” Arnesen said. “With the House refusing to change leadership or to change its tune, the Senate got damaged along the way. That’s going to be hard to explain. ‘It’s not my fault.’ Most people won’t understand that.”
Since these are essentially volunteer positions, turnover is to be expected. But with redistricting, “[Republicans] have ironically enough, spread the wealth … the wealth of Republican voters,” Scala said. “What they’ve done is they’ve ... made a number of districts lean Republican somewhat ... to give the GOP a chance of keeping a majority. They’ve taken their strength and spread it out somewhat by district.”
“Combine that with voters seeing new faces, and it raises the possibility of Democrats having some shots in some of these races. Incumbency, as a factor, is a big deal, especially in state Senate races. A lot depends on things like name recognition,” Scala said.
The Tea Party Effect
The tea party has been criticized and it has been praised. but everyone agrees it had a big impact on the 2010 election. The term “tea party” came to mean a lot of things — not all positive and not all warranted either — but the tea party captured the animosity of voters, mostly conservative voters, throughout the country and New Hampshire in 2010.
Jack Kimball rode the tea party’s “Don’t tread on me” wave into the chairmanship of the state Republican party, but his support fell quickly. He didn’t last much past Labor Day last year. Whether that wound has healed or not remains to be seen.
“The Tea Party is doing well and gearing up for 2012,” said Jane Aitken, of the New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition (www.nhteapartycoalition.org). She added that individual supporting groups in the tea party network are holding forums and workshops throughout the state. Some groups are focusing on the Constitution, and others are holding speakers to talk about Austrian Economics and Voluntaryism. Aitken noted that the Granite State Liberty PAC is bringing Rosa Koire, a land rights official who focuses on what’s called the sustainable development conspiracy, to New Hampshire for three days beginning June 22 for speaking events in Manchester, Dover and Wolfeboro.
“Koire is a liberal Democrat, which proves that the tea party is non-partisan and deals with issues that are of concern to everyone,” Aitken said.
Spiliotes figures the tea party will continue to play a role in the grassroots. But he’s not sure how it will impact this election.
“I don’t think it will dominate, but I don’t think it’s gone away completely,” Spiliotes said. “It’s certainly still in the mix.”
The tea party movement wouldn’t necessarily play a big role in the GOP primary for governor, since both Smith and Lamontagne are rather conservative and don’t differ dramatically on policy. “I don’t know that the tea party gets behind one or the other,” Scala said. And Bass and Guinta don’t appear to be facing any serious primary opposition, Scala said.
So the tea party impact, if it’s going to be felt, will be at the Statehouse level. “I think that’s where they’ve had their biggest impact,” Scala said. “How many of those folks are running again?”
The state Senate has been something of a roadblock to a number of House initiatives, opting against pursuing social legislation to focus on economic issues. Scala wondered if the next step would be for conservative groups to generate interest in challenging some of those Republican senators.
Aitken downplayed the tea party’s role in this election. It will be business as usual from her perspective.
“As for the coming elections, most groups will work hard to screen candidates who support their issues,” Aitken said. “[The Coalition for New Hampshire Taxpayers] does not endorse, but is collecting the No Broad-based Tax Pledge and will maintain a list as usual.”
NHLA has been hosting candidate workshops and Statehouse tours, which Aitken said are useful in teaching people how to testify at legislative hearings. The Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance will likely be the only “tea party” groups that actively recruit and endorse liberty candidates in the New Hampshire elections, Aitken said.
Dennehy said he thought the tea party movement would be motivated to elect Republicans, as opposed to challenging Republicans members don’t see as conservative enough.
“I see that as the situation for 2012,” Dennehy said. “2014 could be a very different situation.”
He doesn’t see any division in the GOP in New Hampshire.
“You could point to divisions elsewhere,” Dennehy said. “New Hampshire is less of a quote-unquote tea party state … but it has always been libertarian in its actions. … That’s why Ron Paul does well. That’s why Ross Perot does well. You don’t see the division here that you might in other states, like an Indiana.”
“This quote-unquote tea party division is overblown,” Dennehy added. “I think folks associated with the tea party simply want less government.” Democrats try to demonize people who are associated with the tea party movement, Dennehy said, but he thinks that approach could blow up in Democrats’ faces.
The tea party movement is not about individual candidates.
“The [New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition] will not endorse a candidate in the presidential election, but individual members will be encouraged instead to work on local elections and getting local liberty candidates elected,” Aitken said.
The Battle for the Presidency in NH
Since it’s a re-election year, it’s to some extent a referendum on the president and his handling of the economy. The Obama campaign launched an attack a few weeks ago criticizing Romney’s economic record as governor of Massachusetts. The Obama campaign will try to make the case the president has done a good job with the economy, Spiliotes said.
“Right now, we seem to be stuck in a slow upward slog,” Scala said. “That’s being reflected in polls. President Obama seems to be right on the edge of the knife of being an incumbent who could be easily re-elected and someone who might not have much of a chance....”
Obama is doing a little better in New Hampshire now, and that helps Democrats all the way down the ticket.
Obama’s job approval is a little below 50 percent, which is not quite the same situation President Jimmy Carter faced when he sought re-election, but it’s certainly not the situation President Bill Clinton faced in 1996, when he had a fairly easy path to re-election, Scala said.
“This election looks like it’s going to be a bit of a slog,” Scala said. “If the economy keeps limping along, we might see a very close election.”
Economic issues are personalized, so elections are always about the economy in some way, Arnesen said. It’s not necessarily good news, but the fact that the economic downturn is global in nature helps Obama make the case that it is a worldwide calamity. The economies in other countries, including places like Brazil and China, are starting to shrink, Arnesen said.
“He can say we’re not on an island,” Arnesen said, adding it is more difficult to blame the president when the whole world is tanking economically. It makes it harder for Romney’s criticisms to stick. It also makes the election less about whose fault the bad economy is and more about how to ride it out, she said.
“I’m not sure you can improve while everyone else is sinking around us, but if everybody is really looking at the financial calamity, it’s hard to say you’re going to make up the difference,” Arnesen said. She also pointed out that though economic news isn’t good in the U.S., the news is still much better here than it is elsewhere. “It means we’re not alone and we haven’t caused the problem and that we can’t repair it alone.”
Romney, in his primary victory in New Hampshire, did well in just about all parts of the Republican electorate. If there was one group to watch it would be Republican-leaning women, not strongly Republican women, Scala said.
“What is their reaction toward the socially conservative message Republicans have been putting out in the last couple months?” Scala asked.
It’s not a big group in the electorate, but in an election that could be decided on the margins, groups like that matter, Scala said.
Dennehy figures it’s going to be a close race. That doesn’t mean that if Romney wins by two percentage points, every other Republican is going to win by that margin as well.
“As we’ve seen before, other Republicans can outperform the top of the ticket [in New Hampshire],” Dennehy said.
And Dennehy expects there to continue to be a feeling of anti-incumbency among the electorate — that’s nationally and in the Granite State.
The Race for Governor
“Most of the energy at the moment is around the governor’s race,” Spiliotes said.
That makes sense, politicos say. It’s the first time since 2004 that it has been an open seat. Lynch has had a stranglehold on the seat since 2004. In two re-election bids, the GOP didn’t field a serious candidate. John Stephen gave Lynch a run for his money in 2010, but he couldn’t quite knock him off, even in a year in which Republicans dominated.
With Ovide Lamontagne and Kevin Smith vying for the nomination, Republicans are trying to seize the opportunity this time around. But Maggie Hassan and Jackie Cilley, who are running for the Democratic nomination, along with political newcomer Bill Kennedy, look like serious contenders, as well.
Smith is trying to make the transition from advocate to candidate. Lamontagne has been expected to run for some time. Spiliotes said Hassan and Lamontagne were probably the two most talked about candidates for governor on either side leading up to the race, so it’s no surprise they ended up running. Hassan and Cilley, of course, would have preferred to hold onto their Senate seats in 2010, so they could run from that platform. Lamontagne garnered attention and recognition for his well-run Senate campaign that came up just short of defeating Kelly Ayotte in 2010. He garnered seemingly even more recognition for graciously throwing his support behind Ayotte instead of calling for a recount.
Dennehy sees Lamontagne as the overwhelming frontrunner: “People know who he is … and in many ways they are comfortable with who he is.”
Lamontagne is sort of the elder statesman, while Smith is more of an energetic crusader, Dennehy said.
“I think in the end it will be a close race [for the GOP nomination] and whomever wins will benefit from the close race,” Dennehy said. “But both are pretty similar on a policy level. … So it’s more of a choice about style.”
Spiliotes said he’ll be looking at how Hassan handles the whole issue of the pledge ? the pledge to not support any broad-based tax. Hassan has taken the pledge previously, but Cilley has indicated she won’t take the pledge. Hassan recently said at a candidates forum that she would veto any proposal for an income tax or a sales tax.
“Activist Democrats really want a dialogue about a broad-based sales or income tax and they’ve become increasingly frustrated by the pledge,” Spiliotes said. “[Hassan has] taken the pledge, so she might have to find some other ways to talk about tax equity. … She can’t simply ignore it. That’s dangerous in a Democratic primary.”
On the Republican side, Spiliotes said the question is how candidates deal with the state Legislature. To what extent do candidates distance themselves from House leadership?
The gubernatorial candidates are a bit of a blank slate for voters. Most voters don’t know Hassan or Cilley. On the Republican side, Smith is a relative unknown as well. Even Lamontagne, who has been in the news quite a bit since 2010, is more unknown than people might guess. Given that, Scala said the race could be impacted by what happens at the top of the ticket. A strong win in New Hampshire for Obama, and perhaps the Democratic nominee pulls it out, or conversely, if Romney wins New Hampshire, that could be good news for the Republican nominee.
Despite the fact that Democratic gubernatorial candidates are relatively unknown statewide, they’re polling well against GOP candidates, Buckley said.
It’s easy to make the assumption that a Republican will win this race, Arnesen said. A Democrat has held the office for four terms and that is unheard of in New Hampshire history.
“But what’s going to be on Gov. Lynch’s page in history?” Arnesen said. “Not much. He lasted a long time, but other than that, not much, especially not much in the last term. In the last term, there was not a Democratic governor. The de facto governor was O’Brien.”
Lynch has had his hands tied the last two years with Republican supermajorities in both houses of the legislature. There was little he could do. He stuck his neck out once in a while, but he had little power to exert. Instead, it was O’Brien who held all the cards, Arnesen said.
“All the policy stuff, all the negative stuff,” Arnesen said. “Cuts to education. Cuts to hospitals. All that pointed to one person. That had nothing to do with the corner office. The real interesting thing is how does a Republican run? Do they run by running away from O’Brien? Really, and where were you for two years? And if you don’t say anything, then you are with him.”
Arnesen sees O’Brien as setting the table for Democrats.
“Lynch is running in place,” Arnesen said. “‘I want to be a nice guy and I want to leave.’ Well, goodbye. O’Brien has set this up for Democrats.”
Scala wasn’t surprised more candidates did not run.
“I think the Lamontagne campaign did a good job of making the most of a second-place finish to Kelly Ayotte back in 2010,” Scala said. “I think they capitalized effectively on the good will that Lamontagne engendered after gracefully bowing out, rather than asking for a recount ... I think he continued that through 2011 with all the house parties at his home. He’s done a lot of good for himself.”
Essentially, Lamontagne did a good job of convincing Republican elites that this is his turn to run for governor, Scala said.
“I think that given all that, some candidates decided to take a pass,” Scala said. “They were seeing a lot of party elites supporting Lamontagne. He had a big head start.”
Still, Scala said it was a little surprising that no moderate jumped into the race.
“That could be a reflection of where the Republican electorate is in New Hampshire,” Scala said.
Bill Binnie garnered a good bit of attention this spring. Some thought he was positioning himself for a run. Binnie had plenty of his own money to use to get into the race, and he would have presumably filled the slot of the moderate Republican. He tried to fill that slot in the 2010 Senate race and ultimately lost badly. Perhaps other more moderate Republicans, such as Jeb Bradley or Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, took that as a warning.
But Dennehy was surprised.
“I continue to be stunned that there are not more people running for governor,” Dennehy said. “Open seats come up once in a decade. …That being said, it’s way too late for another candidate to get into the race. Unless it’s a superstar with nearly 100-percent name ID. That person simply doesn’t exist.”
Dennehy isn’t necessarily surprised there are not more candidates on the Democratic side, as historically they haven’t typically had more than two candidates.
The 1st District
The congressional races are a little tough to figure right now. Arnesen said these races are difficult to individualize. She figured they would be heavily influenced by how things go with the presidential election in New Hampshire.
Spiliotes said he’s not hearing much in the 1st Congressional District. Most of the polling suggests Shea-Porter is doing a little better than two years ago. Shea-Porter lost by a wide margin to Frank Guinta in 2010, when she was the incumbent. Guinta was easily able to tie Shea-Porter to the Obama administration and general government over-reaching and spending.
While a recent University of New Hampshire poll had Guinta and Shea-Porter locked in a tight race, Dennehy said the poll oversampled Democrats. Making adjustments, Dennehy figures Guinta has about an eight-point lead.
“Frank is going to continue to do what he does to get around the district,” Dennehy said. “I think Frank will win. He is the type of person and candidate in a district that will very likely outperform the top of the ticket. I don’t see a scenario where he loses. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be close.”
The 1st Congressional District is a more conservative district. That gives Guinta an inherent advantage over Shea-Porter, who is seen as a progressive Democrat. In 2010, Guinta cleaned up on the Route 101 corridor. Shea-Porter will have to make some significant gains in that area to come out on top this time around, analysts say.
Arnesen said Guinta, despite his winning in 2010 and despite his time as mayor of Manchester, isn’t particularly known in the district. She said Shea-Porter has much better name recognition. Shea-Porter did hold the seat for two terms, after all.
The problem for Guinta is that Congress has such a low approval rating. He, personally, has more or less fallen in line with the House Republican leadership. While Dennehy sees Guinta as someone who could outperform the top of the ticket, Arnesen wasn’t so sure. If Obama wins New Hampshire, it could be difficult for Guinta to win back his seat.
“He’s not in a place where it’s going to be an easy sell,” Arnesen said. “I think it will be very interesting. I think the 1st District, even more than the 2nd District, could be the one to watch.”
While Rep. Charlie Bass in the 2nd District is a more moderate Republican, Guinta is more conservative, and Arnesen wasn’t sure how well that would play with more “thoughtful independents.”
Congress has been particularly unproductive in the last two years, so Guinta has little to show voters.
“This has been the most pathetic gridlock, most unproductive Congress in decades, at a time when we needed productivity,” Arnesen said.
The 2nd Distict
The race between Ann McLane Kuster and Bass is sort of the marquee match-up. The race was extremely narrow in 2010 and that’s expected to be the case once again. Bass is a household name in a liberal-leaning district. Kuster ran a universally admired grassroots campaign in 2010.
Pundits say that’s the race to watch.
“Charlie had a close encounter with the jaws of death two years ago, and I think this year it will be equally close,” Dennehy said. “That being said, I’ve never seen Charlie work harder than he has. He has to very likely outperform President Obama in the 2nd District, as well as raise over $1 million. That means he has to out-work Anne Kuster and motivate the Republican base.”
No matter how people slice it, that’s going to be a close race, Dennehy said.
With issues like contraception, abortion and birth control arriving at the forefront at times during the last few months in New Hampshire, Kuster and Shea-Porter have gender advantages in their races, Arnesen said. It’s easier for them to talk about some of those issues, issues that Guinta and Bass would probably prefer to forget.
“Ann Kuster, how is she not going to talk about birth control and Planned Parenthood?” Arnesen said. “She’s going to have to. And Charlie Bass doesn’t want to remember. Guinta doesn’t want to remember.”
Whose Message Wins?
In the end, it’s about the messaging battle.
“That is absolutely always the case,” Dennehy said. “I think [Republicans] are very well-positioned just by the sheer fact that President Obama has so much baggage in his reelection bid … that it will have reverberations, which will benefit Republicans all the way down the ticket.”
But Democrats are ready to roll.
Buckley pointed to Democrats’ special election success during the past two years, as Democrats picked up four House seats since 2010 and only lost one special election — and that was to a pro-labor Republican.
“Our base is excited,” Buckley said.
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