Franklin Pierce professor quoted in post-election analysis of New Hampshire's changing political climate...

Nov 6, 2008

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Is N.H. changing colors?
By Adam D. Krauss

Fosters Daily Democrat
Dover, NH, Thursday, November 6, 2008

DOVER - After the 2006 election, when New Hampshire Democrats saw historic gains up and down the ballot, activist Joan Ashwell didn't get too caught up in talk of the state turning solidly "blue." There needed to be another test. "You have to wait for another election," the former Strafford County party chair said on Election Day. "This is the one."

Democrats made history on several counts Tuesday. For the first time, the party retained control of the state House and Senate in New Hampshire for a second consecutive election cycle. The re-election of U.S. Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes, and Jeanne Shaheen's defeat of U.S. Sen. John Sununu meant the state, for the first time since 1912, elected three Democrats to Congress at the same time.

Democratic Gov. John Lynch won re-election by the largest margin of any third-term incumbent in state history, and the Executive Council secured its first back-to-back Democratic majority.

Yet there was further proof of this once solidly Republican "red" state turning or, depending on your view, staying blue: Sen. Barack Obama beat a sort of adopted political son in Republican Sen. John McCain, making it two straight presidential elections that the state went for the Democratic ticket.

After the election, state Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said preliminary data showed the party picked up the 3,000 registered voters it needed to overtake Republicans, who saw their lead dwindling the last couple of weeks. "If that is the case, then I think that you can label New Hampshire 'blue,'" Buckley said.

State GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen said nothing could be further from the truth. "New Hampshire is a very competitive state where both parties can win," he said.

Cullen was feeling "disappointed but not surprised" Tuesday at the losses at the federal level, yet "pleased" at the net gain of 17 seats made at the state House and the ability to hold 10 Republicans seats in the Senate.

To him and other Republicans, the outcome at the state level showed the state remains too dynamic to brand.

"It took us more than one election cycle to fall into a minority status, and it will take more than one election to get most of that back," Cullen said.

Concord-based Republican consultant Richard Killion agrees. "We're a swing state, and the state is purple," he said. "Republicans should understand the challenges we face and ... double down and invigorate ourselves on the things that we know have always been the core principles and worked - fiscal responsibility and personal responsibility and accountability."

If it wasn't for the anti-President Bush sentiment and the early fall financial meltdown - which conspired for the "most inopportune time" for Republican candidates in decades - the outcome could have been different, Killion said.

McCain, victor of the state Republican primaries in 2000 and 2008, appealed to Granite Staters on the eve of the general election to give him a victory. But voters - including the independents that outnumber Democrats and Republicans - didn't deliver. Exit polling conducted for The Associated Press showed about two-thirds of independents went for Obama, and each candidate held their party's base in what amounted to a roughly 337,600 to 273,600-vote win for the Democrat.

So what happened to McCain's maverick appeal?

"I think that's always been over exaggerated," said Andy Smith, University of New Hampshire Survey Center director. "I think it was a myth created by the McCain campaign that somehow there was this affinity for him in New Hampshire" that wouldn't die.

Cullen said the "change" message was going to win this election, and McCain's "reform" platform could have fulfilled that, just like 2000. But "I'm not sure the message was consistent" this time, he said.

While Ashwell wasn't ready in 2006 to call New Hampshire "blue," another Granite Stater said it will take at least one more contest before the conclusion can be made.

 

"It's much too early," said Allan Rachlin, who teaches political sociology at Franklin Pierce University. "I think that this election is a singular moment in time, and it's most characterized by a negative response to Bush."

Rachlin also pointed to the composition of lawmakers like Shaheen and Lynch. "They have a 'D' by their name, but, given a generation ago, they would have fit into the moderate wing of the Republican Party," he said.

 

Meanwhile, a recent UNH study showed about one-quarter of the state's eligible voters are those who were not old enough to vote or did not live here in 2000 - and that both groups are more likely to vote Democratic.

In Maine - where voters haven't backed a Republican presidential ticket since 1988 - there's less debate whether the state is solidly Democratic. After Tuesday, it appeared Democrats expanded on their leads in the state House and Senate. Democrats have enjoyed a winning streak in general elections for the House since 1974, and they lost control of the Senate for only two years since 1982.

Also in Maine, Democrats won both U.S. House seats. GOP U.S. Sen. Susan Collins retained her seat, testament to what observers describe as the Pine Tree State voters' independent streak.

As the debate goes on in New Hampshire, it will be the voters who decide which way the state trends. Even those who voted for Democrats this year said they did so with some reservation.

"It was a hard decision, to be honest," said Dover resident Pat Herring, 48, a bakery manager who backed Obama. "I had in mind one person, a Democrat, then I thought maybe we should go Republican. I just want the poor people in the world to have a better life."


For McCain supporter Bob Michaud, 50, of Madbury, the blue-red debate exaggerates things. "We have a public image that there's such a radical polarization," he said, "but, in reality, a lot of the electorate is middle of the road."

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