(This is a special post-election edition of Granite Reports)
WEDNESDAY, NOV. 5: SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE. While Republicans nationally celebrated on Wednesday in the aftermath of their long-coveted takeover of the U.S. Senate, the mood was mixed here in New Hampshire, on both the GOP and Democratic Republican sides.
Democrats were feeling pretty good about holding up in some areas against the national tide that saw at least a seven-seat swing in the Senate to GOP control.
At the top of the ticket, at least, they bucked the anti-Barack Obama sentiment that saw his approval rating plummet during the year to the range of 38 to 44-45 percent.
By no means was it a great day for Democrats, but the view being conveyed is that it could have been much worse. Obviously, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen was the big winner, holding on to her Senate seat. Gov. Maggie Hassan also performed in accordance with expectations and won convincingly, considering the national mood. Democrats retained one U.S. House seat and lost another.
Looking down the ballot, a 60-seat swing saw them lose control of the state House, they increased their deficit in the Senate from 13-11 to 14-10 (with a recount a possibility in another district) and lost control of the Executive Council. Yet compared to 2010, the numbers were not as devastating, when the Democrats up with only five state Senate seats and slightly more than 100 in the 400-member House.
The feeling is that they “held their own” in a difficult year nationally – something Democrats in the state have not been able to do in the past in the face of GOP waves.
The Republicans have a mirror image view. Obviously, Scott Brown’s loss was a major blow – many of them believed he would defeat Shaheen on Tuesday. Only the most optimistic held out hope for Havenstein and Marilinda Garcia, but Frank Guinta’s win gave them a split with the Democrats in the makeup of the state’s congressional delegation. This will be the first time since 1992, by the way, that the state’s U.S. House delegation will be split.
Brown ran a strong race despite the fact that he moved to the state full-time only about a year ago. He had to overcome the carpetbagger stigma, introduce himself to Granite Staters and run against someone who has been in state politics for about 30 years and had won four times (now five). And Havenstein, who was unknown a year ago, ran a strong enough race to ensure that Hassan had no coattails down the ballot.
Republicans, as noted, picked up what appears to be nearly 60 seats in the House and one seat in the state Senate, with another one possibly going to a recount. And they now have 3-2 control of the Executive Council. There is plenty of leverage there to advance their agenda – if they can actually agree on one – and force Hassan’s hand.
It could be a long two years for Hassan, just as will probably be for Obama. But if she has ambitions of taking on Sen. Kelly Ayotte in 2016, she would be wise to put into practice the bipartisanship that she talked about throughout her reelection campaign.
THE IRONY. A major theme of Hassan’s campaign was tying Havenstein to the staunchly conservative – she used the terms “radical” and “extreme” – agenda of former New Hampshire House speaker Bill O’Brien.
Ironically, while that message was successful in defeating Havenstein, Hassan may well have O’Brien as speaker of the House for her second term. The former speaker won reelection easily and, we’re told, began planning his run to return to the post today.
Current House Republican Leader Gene Chandler also appeared to readying a run, as is Rep. Laurie Sanborn.
Chandler issued a statement that could be interpreted as hinting at his own campaign theme.
“We’re very happy with the election results at the House level and we couldn’t be prouder of the hard work of our candidates. It’s clear that our positive message focusing on improving our economy and making sure our government lives within its means resonated with voters across the state.”
But then he continued, “We’re mindful that with a majority comes a high degree of responsibility and we intend on governing in a common sense, transparent manner we believe New Hampshire citizens expect and deserve. Our legislative priorities will continue to concentrate on responsible state spending and budgeting and helping to improve our business climate to help create more jobs and increase prosperity for citizens in all parts of the state.”
And whoever emerges as speaker when the votes are counted next month will have his or her hands full unifying a GOP caucus with a variety of factions.
KELLY WINS. Besides Guinta, the biggest Republican winner yesterday wasn’t even on the ballot, but as noted above, is expected to be in two years.
Ayotte has been a rising star in GOP national politics virtually since she arrived in Washington nearly four years ago – as a member of the minority party in the Senate. Now, she is in the majority.
What does it mean?
Ayotte can now make proposals that might actually pass into law, rather than languish on Harry Reid’s desk. She can promote legislation on a wide range of national security issues as a key member of the Armed Services Committee, which is expected to be chaired by her friend and mentor, John McCain, and expect it to pass. Her focus on defense issues will only intensify.
She is also on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, as well as the Budget Committee. Will she keep these positions in the next Congress? That remains to be seen.
While it is unclear if she, still a freshman, will receive a committee chairmanship, it is likely that she would receive higher leadership positions on subcommittees.
And as her profile rises, talk will intensify on the possibility of her being the running mate in 2016 for the GOP’s presidential nominee, even as she prepares for a reelection battle, possibly against Hassan.
As for how Ayotte feels about now being in the majority, she was said to be unavailable today, but her office released this statement:
“Republicans and Democrats have a responsibility to work together to find solutions to the many challenges facing our country. As the new Congress gets to work, I will continue to work across the aisle to advance priorities that are important to Granite Staters – including creating a better tax and regulatory climate that allows businesses in New Hampshire and across our country to grow and create jobs. I’m also hopeful that new leadership will restore the Senate to a place that is accountable to voters – and that means allowing members of both parties to offer, debate, and vote on legislation on behalf of our constituents.”
THE GROUND GAME. How did Shaheen buck the national tide? In addition to her campaign’s effective criticism of Brown as an opportunistic office-shopper, and a tool of Big Oil and the “dreaded” Koch brothers, Shaheen, while burdened by the Obama albatross, was able to survive because she is so familiar to Granite Staters.
It’s also questionable whether Brown, with his pro-choice position, less than “pure” record on the Second Amendment, and being the recipient of support from outside special interests, was able to win enough support from the backers of his two GOP primary opponents, former Sen. Bob Smith and former state Sen. Jim Rubens.
Remember that each of them received 23 percent of the vote in the Sept. 9 primary. Undoubtedly Brown received the support of most Rubens and Smith supporters, but apparently a fair number stayed home as well.
Brown, however, ran a strong campaign overall. He did it the New Hampshire way – with town halls and a classic retail approach, as is his strong suit.
“I’ve never seen a grassroots candidate like him,” said veteran GOP operative Jim Merrill. “He certainly had a steep hill to climb. How well he did speaks volumes.”
But Merrill said that in the end, “Jeanne Shaheen’s ability to localize the election exceeded Brown’s ability to nationalize it. The reservoir of good will she has built up all these years was the difference.”
Beyond that, it was a matter of the Democrats putting “boots on the ground,” with a get-out-the-vote operation, unprecedented for a non-presidential year.
Republican Greg Moore, state director of Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire, witnessed it from the other side. He said that in most cases, the Republican numbers “were the same as they were in 2010, so that tell me that the Republican base did not stay home. It’s that the Democrats increased the turnout” over prior midterms.
And it was not only the party and the campaigns working the grassroots, it was also the climate activists of NextGen, unions, including the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, activists from women’s health group, such as NARAL and Planned Parenthood, and pro-LGBT groups such as the Human Rights Campaign.
Certainly the Republicans improved their ground game as compared to 2012, but the results bore witness to the fact that they were still surpassed by the Democrats and their allies.
And so we move on. Next stop: the presidential primary.
(John DiStaso is news editor of the New Hampshire Journal and the most experienced political columnist/reporter in New Hampshire. He has been reporting on Granite State politics since 1982. Watch for updates of his Granite Reports column and of course separate stories on NHJournal.com as news breaks. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @jdistaso.)