The New Hampshire Union Leader originally published this column on May 30, 2014:
THIS WEEK, political operatives working for Gov. Maggie Hassan, and probably the governor herself, got a look at a phone poll the New Hampshire Democratic Party conducted last week on behalf of the governor’s re-election campaign.
The main purpose of the nearly 60 question survey was to test messages Hassan plans to use against Republican challenger Walt Havenstein to determine which ones damage him the most. The contents of the poll reveal Hassan’s basic campaign plan: assassinate Havenstein’s character.
Havenstein is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and served 28 years in the Marine Corps, retiring as a colonel. In the private sector, he rose through the ranks of several defense contractors to become CEO of BAE Systems, New Hampshire’s largest manufacturer with 4,000 employees. Later he worked as CEO of SAIC, another large defense company. In retirement, Havenstein put his energy into the FIRST robotics program, developing high school students’ interest in science and technology. It’s been an impressive career, and now Havenstein is offering to take his experience running large organizations and apply it in public service.
That’s not the story Hassan wants voters to learn about, though. She’s planning to re-write Havenstein’s biography and portray him as having become wealthy by defrauding taxpayers while fending off sexual harassment lawsuits.
In the survey, Hassan told voters Havenstein was paid $20 million at SAIC while the company lost thousands of jobs and was sued for fraud and conspiracy, wrongful termination, and sexual harassment. Not that Havenstein was personally accused of fraud or sexual harassment – but bet that crucial distinction won’t be clear in ads to be made on Hassan’s behalf.
Hassan said Havenstein quit SAIC, but not before getting a $1 million severance package. Hassan alleged Havenstein allowed a $500 million contract with New York City to go over budget by inflating costs and paying kickbacks. Hassan said that under Havenstein, BAE worked with the National Security Agency to collect information and spy on Americans.
She also tested policy issues against Havenstein. Among these are Havenstein’s opposition to Medicaid expansion, which Hassan claimed would leave 50,000 people without access to health insurance. She accused Havenstein of supporting the diversion of school funding to private and religious schools. She asked about Havenstein having once had a Maryland driver’s license and receiving a property tax exemption there. She wanted to know whether voters think Havenstein’s stated support for marriage equity, but his willingness to consider repeal of the state’s gay marriage law, amounts to trying to have it both ways.
Searching for unpopular bogeymen to tie Havenstein to, Hassan measured people’s attitudes about the Tea Party and the Koch brothers.
Without offering specifics, she stated that Havenstein sides with the extreme Tea Party agenda.
In the survey, Hassan also tested areas where her team worries she is vulnerable. Do voters agree with the perception that she doesn’t take charge, that she sat in her office and let the state senate write the budget? Do people think she’s a nice person but a follower? Is she a tax and spender? Are they put off by her unwavering support for Obamacare? What about her support for the Medicaid Enhancement Tax, which courts have ruled is unconstitutional? How upset are people about her successful effort to raise the gas tax? What about her support for Common Core and her nomination of a radical anti-charter school activist to the state Board of Education? Have we lost the New Hampshire Advantage? Do we need new leadership in Concord?
For comparisons, Hassan asked voters whether they plan to vote for Jeanne Shaheen or Scott Brown in the U.S. Senate election. She asked voters to assess Senator Kelly Ayotte’s job performance and what they think of Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature. Hassan’s team has written off Andrew Hemingway, who is also seeking the Republican nomination; there was only one question about him.
All politicians have a public face and a private one. Hassan would like voters to see her as a non-partisan servant above the fray of petty politics, but the poll shows she’s not. As for Havenstein, one of the products BAE makes is body armor. He’s going to need a set of his own.
Fergus Cullen, a freelance columnist, is a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed @FergusCullen.