Political science professor quoted in pre-election story on New Hampshire GOP voters and candidates...

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GOP candidates seek good outcome despite lack of support for their candidate for governor

Nashua Telegraph
Nashua, NH, November 2, 2008

CONCORD, NH  – New Hampshire Republicans hope to win federal office Tuesday despite being tied to a slumping national economy, an ongoing, expensive war in Iraq and an unpopular President Bush.

You'd think that would be enough of a burden.

But there's one more cross they must bear.

U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu, former Congressman Jeb Bradley and newcomer Jennifer Horn, of Nashua, all must run on a ballot below gubernatorial candidate Joe Kenney.

For those who think the state's voters are too discriminating to be influenced in picking congressmen according to who's running for governor, consider these bipartisan examples:

• 2002: Sharon Democratic Sen. Mark Fernald, an income tax advocate, managed only 38 percent in losing to Republican Craig Benson.

The casualties included not only Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who lost to Sununu by 4 percent, but also, Democrats in the Legislature were decimated, with only a six-pack left in the 24-person state Senate.

• 2006: Little-known Windham Republican Rep. James Coburn managed record-low 26 percent support in losing to a re-elected Gov. John Lynch.

Republicans lost both seats in Congress and lost control of all state government for the first time since before the Civil War.

Andrew Smith, director for the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, is one observer who questions whether GOP leaders fully appreciate how tough it could be for its federal candidates to survive another Lynch blowout victory.

To win in 2002, Shaheen needed to get 60,000 more votes than Fernald did in order to beat Sununu.

Thanks to a predicted record turnout on Tuesday, Sununu may need 100,000 votes more than Kenney to beat her this time.

"The Republicans were the party that always had the strong lineup of candidates and fielded more of them," Smith said. "This time, the Democrats have turned the tables on them, and it could be very painful for the GOP."

To say Kenney, a state senator from Wakefield, has been outgunned by Lynch's campaign would be a gross understatement. Lynch will have outspent him at least 8-to-l with the help of a coordinated campaign staff that numbers two dozen to Kenney's full-time staff of one.

Lynch had a full-time staff and party office space three months into his term; the state party finally made space for Kenney three weeks before this election.

Undaunted, Kenney vows to fight to the finish.

"I understand I have an uphill battle in this election, but there are families in the state of New Hampshire that have uphill battles, as well,'' Kenney said.

During a recent interview, Kenney insisted his crusade to aggressively cut spending and prevent New Hampshire from morphing into just another liberal New England state would outperform expectations.

"I'm getting a good reception to my message wherever I go," he said. "People are going to be surprised how well I do."

The high-water mark for Kenney in recent polls came in Saturday's Concord Monitor survey, which gave him 32 percent to 64 percent for Lynch, and the rest undecided.

While Kenney has struggled to get media attention in the race, he's had a harder time getting any help from the rest of the ticket. This entire campaign came and went without one press statement from Sununu, Bradley or Horn praising Kenney's effort.

"I've been surprised there was not more effort to prop up Kenney's campaign,'' said Dick Bennett, president of the American Research Group in Manchester. "If I was Sununu, I would have bought independent ads for him if I had to.''

The GOP candidates also haven't taken a single shot at Lynch, while the national party has spent millions attacking Shaheen.

Ironically, Bennett says these congressional candidates could have worked with Kenney to hone a unifying message 

"They could have made the case that Lynch can't be trusted to keep taxes low, because he didn't keep spending low the last two years Democrats were in Concord,'' Bennett said.

Such an offensive could have helped the GOP hierarchy try to restore its image as the tight-fisted party, battered by the record federal deficits under Bush, he said.

"I think the entire Republican brand has been decimated among independent voters,'' Bennett said. "They no longer are looked on as credible fiscal conservatives.''

Even leading Democrats gave Kenney decent marks for hammering that theme effectively in his only televised debate with Lynch last week.

Frank Cohen, political science professor at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, said adding to the GOP woes are studies that show as many as 200,000 residents eligible to vote Tuesday were too young or not here in 2004.

They lack any knowledge of Republicans as the once dominant party that owned the anti-broad-based tax mantle, he said.

"While many observers have been talking about New Hampshire being a purple state during the past two elections, it's obvious that new residents and some of the recent demographic changes have resulted in ideological shifts that have now pushed the state into the blue category,'' Cohen said.

Republican State Chairman Fergus Cullen strongly disputes that conclusion.

"John McCain's personal popularity and the free-spending ways of Democrats that now run Concord will help all of our Republican candidates who stand for low taxes,'' Cullen said.

A political action committee run by New Hampton Republican Rep. Fran Wendleboe embarked on a renegade bid last week with a bumper sticker, e-mail and Web video campaign lampooning state Democrats under the heading, "Stop the Drunken Sailors.''

"It's unfortunate we couldn't do something like this on a coordinated basis and put some real money behind it,'' said Wendleboe, who Cullen defeated for state party chairman last fall.

All is not lost for the Grand Old Party heading into the final weekend, though.

Some polls have Bradley locked in a dead heat with first-term Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, and state Democrats spent the final week of this race frantically trying to label Bradley as out of the mainstream.

Sununu has closed a wide gap with Shaheen in the Senate race, and his internal polls earlier in the week had him within 3 percentage points. Shaheen campaign memos warn supporters to anticipate a tight result.

But you can forgive leading Democrats for trying to tag Sununu in the closing days the way Republicans slapped Shaheen in 2002.

Six years ago, GOP foot soldiers propped up signs that looked like Shaheen's in cities across the state that mockingly urged, "Vote Fernald/Shaheen, the Tax Team.''

On Friday, the Democrats answered, plopping their snarky 2008 signs in highway rights of way that lumped a vulnerable incumbent with his woebegone president.

"Stand with Bush, Stick with Sununu,'' they said.


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