Election Day 2006 was a dismal one for Republicans, but nowhere was it worse than in New Hampshire. The Democratic incumbent governor John Lynch took 74 percent of the vote and both House seats flipped to Democrats, with Jeb Bradley losing 52-46 percent to anti-war activist Carol Shea Porter and Charlie Bass losing 53-46 percent to Paul Hodes. Democrats also captured the state legislature for the first time since 1911.
Fueled by the 2006 results, political discussion has raged as to whether the once reliably red state may have shifted blue and whether the influx of voters from other states is permanently changing the political complexion of the Granite State.
IMMIGRATION, NEW HAMPSHIRE STYLE
According to Republican State Chairman Fergus Cullen, there is a “slow motion earthquake” at work in New Hampshire. Currently the only New England state with an increasing population, New Hampshire is set to grow by 33 percent between 2000 and 2030.
Observers point to the large migrations to New Hampshire of people from the Boston area and mid-Atlantic states as the source of a fundamental shift in Granite State politics. Some pundits attribute to this influx the so-called “rise of the Independents” in New Hampshire. Indeed, the percentage of Independents in New Hampshire went from 30 to 44 percent over the last decade or so.
The label “Independent,” however, is a misnomer, according to Professor Andrew Smith, director of the Survey Center at the University of New Hampshire. In actuality, large numbers of the migrants to New Hampshire who are registering “Undeclared” are not truly unaffiliated voters. Rather than being true Independents, most of these voters are actually Democrats. The most recent Survey Center poll in April of 2007 shows that, of these new Undeclared voters, 47 percent identify themselves as Democrats, 20 percent as Republicans, and only 33 percent as true Independents.
The Boston-area refugees, who are generally conservative and have congregated in towns near the border with Massachusetts, and the larger group from the mid-Atlantic states, who are more liberal, are both more highly educated and younger than the rest of the state’s population. Charles Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, calls these voters “tax refugees” who, regardless of party, bolster the traditional New Hampshire support for fiscal conservatism.
These newcomers are added to a population of voters who, according to Smith, have been dominated on the GOP side by traditional “Rockefeller” Republicans. These voters jealously guard their “no income tax” status, focus on fiscal matters over social issues, and show a high interest in environmental issues. Social conservatives have historically been a smaller part of the political scene in New Hampshire, a result of fewer evangelical churches and low church attendance.
Debate exists as to how social issues are currently affecting party identification. According Larry J. Sabato, the Republicans’ emphasis nationally on social issues, which has galvanized conservatives in other parts of the country, may turn off voters in New Hampshire: “NH’s slogan ‘Live Free or Die’ captures the libertarian nature of the state.” Nevertheless, Cullen warns that Governor Lynch’s repeal of an abortion parental notification bill, along with civil union legislation, may have stirred some social conservatives to become more politically active.
THE 2006 WIPEOUT
What accounts for the GOP wipeout in 2006? Bradley has called it the “perfect storm,” and most observers agree that a combination of factors contributed to the Democratic surge: a weak Republican gubernatorial candidate at the top of the ticket (who polled only 26 percent overall and was in single digits with Independents); the absence of a popular Republican senator on the ballot; dissatisfaction with the Iraq war; and a dismal GOP congressional record of fiscal and ethical irresponsibility.
Former Republican state chairman and now state chairman for the Giuliani campaign Wayne Semprini credits the Democrats, especially Lynch, with co-opting the Republican message of fiscal responsibility. In 2006 every candidate for major office in New Hampshire — both Democrat and Republican — ran on a pledge of no income tax and no sales tax. Semprini also echoes complaints of many Republicans around the country that, had Donald Rumsfeld been fired before the election, candidates like Bradley who were pummeled over management of the Iraq war might have survived.
CHALLENGES FOR 2008
As for the presidential primaries, the first trick is figuring out who will vote and in which primary. New Hampshire allows same-day registration, so a large number of primary voters never reached by canvassers, especially students and new residents, may turn out on Election Day. Moreover, “Undeclareds” can request either party’s ballot as they walk into the voting booth. In 2000, due to the weak candidates in the Democratic race, overwhelming numbers of them voted in the GOP primary, turning what would have been a narrow win among true Republicans into a rout for John McCain.
All the GOP candidates are scrambling to maintain their credentials with the Republican base while making efforts to attract the Undeclareds who will have a choice of two hotly contested primaries. Mike Dennehey, who is heading McCain’s New Hampshire effort, attributes McCain’s appeal to his reputation as a “conservative Republican with a history and strong record to back it up but who is also willing to work across the aisle to get things done.” Not surprisingly, Semprini touts Giuliani’s leadership and fiscal record as appealing both to traditional Republicans and new Independents.
ORGANIZATION IS KEY
All the campaigns and political observers agree on one thing: organization and a huge amount of campaigning in the state are essential. With a mass of Undeclared voters, local political staff must be able to identify the voters most inclined to vote for each party so that advertising and GOTV efforts can be directed at the right voters.
Advisers to the top tier candidates scoff at the suggestion made by Fred Thompson and some of his supporters that an effective campaign can be run by means of technology, avoiding the hard work of meeting voters. Duffy and Smith both recall that when George Bush “ducked” a Dartmouth debate in 1999, voters began to buzz that he was afraid or had something to hide, creating an opening for McCain. One adviser for a GOP candidate says: “If that’s [Thompson’s] attitude then he hasn’t given serious consideration to what is needed.”
New Hampshire voters enjoy the experience of “kicking the tires” and meeting candidates. Approximately 20 percent of primary voters in 2000 and 2004 reported having shook hands with one or more candidates. So campaigning by remote control may not work here. Duffy certainly thinks so: “There is no substitute for on-the-ground coffee shop and house visits.” Nevertheless, Arlinghaus points out that “nontraditional” campaigns often work in New Hampshire and that a candidate with “charisma” may be able to connect with voters; they don’t necessarily have to “live here” so long as they “come here.”
According to Cullen, McCain and Romney stand out as the best organized, but he also gives credit to efforts by Governor Mike Huckabee and Congressman Tom Tancredo. McCain’s team was happy to share that he has made “7 town halls, two rallies and a half dozen spontaneous stops in NH since March 16th. He will be back in the state June 5th and a number of times throughout the summer.” Romney’s campaign likewise touts its attendance, citing seven trips in 2007 alone. Giuliani’s team concedes having gotten off to a late start but vows that the campaign has made a major commitment of time and money to the state.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire has the potential to be one of the most hotly contested in the country. John Sununu, who defeated popular Governor Jeanne Shaheen in 2002, might be facing a rematch, though Shaheen has yet to declare her candidacy. Pundits not associated with either politician have begun to speculate that she may not get into the race, perhaps holding out for a post in a Democratic administration. It is agreed that Sununu will breathe easier if she does not enter the race.
Mike Whalley, GOP minority leader for the State House, concedes that Sununu may have a “real horse race” but emphasizes that he embodies New Hampshire values and has successfully “walked that fine line” on the Iraq war by supporting the surge while offering reasoned criticism of the war’s mismanagement. According to Whalley, most New Hampshire voters “do not want to cut and run” and appreciate Sununu’s efforts to support the military.
As Charlie Cook puts it, “Sununu is certainly on a vulnerable list, but recruiting is still a challenge” for Democrats. Should Shaheen not get into the race, the most likely Democrat challenger will be either Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand, a young and energetic figure, or Katrina Swett, wife of former Congressman Dick Swett and daughter of Tom Lantos. While Marchand may present a more dynamic personality, Swett has a developed network of donors and the experience of campaigning both with her husband and during her own failed run for Congress.
According to Smith, the Granite State has not yet reached the “tipping point,” and Republicans for the next few years will still enjoy a majority of the electorate. However, Republicans’ demise will certainly be hastened if they do not produce results on issues voters care about, returning to their traditional role as fiscal conservatives. That, in fact, may be good advice both in and out of the Granite State.