Primary Day in NH: Key questions to mull as returns roll in

It’s primary election day in New Hampshire, with four major Republican contests on the ballot. The top of the Democratic ticket is set, with all four incumbents ready to fight for the next eight weeks to retain their offices.


While the bottom line is of course simply who wins and who loses, the more delicate game is the spin contest that will begin tonight after the votes are counted and the general election campaign begins in earnest.


Scott Brown, in his bid for the U.S. Senate nomination, needs to once and for all prove that he is not just a nominee who squeaked by for a primary win, but that he is truly a strong New Hampshire Republican who can unseat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who is approaching iconic status in the Democratic Party.


The former three-term governor, should she win a second term in the Senate in this sour political environment for her party, will  approach the star-power status of retired Sen. Judd Gregg, who served three terms as a congressman, two terms as a governor and three terms as a Senator (And yes, we did not forget that Gregg served a term on the Executive Council, and Shaheen served three terms as a state senator.)


As we’ve written, Brown need a strong, very solid win tonight – he needs to achieve 50 percent, give or take a few points – to be able to then reach out to the right for former Sen. Bob Smith’s supporters, and to the independent voters who are likely to gravitate toward Jim Rubens. He needs to get Smith, Rubens and their supporters on board – enthusiastically – if he hopes to upset Shaheen.


Even with President Barack Obama’s approval rating at an all-time low in New Hampshire, and with Shaheen having voted with him 99 percent of the time, that is not enough to guarantee a Brown general election victory. Shaheen remains popular in the state, knows the state as well as anyone, and even with her Obama albatross, is fully capable of winning reelection. Shewill go into the general election as the favorite.


Watch for Brown’s returns in the traditional key Republican areas of the towns surrounding Manchester – Bedford, Goffstown, Merrimack — and towns (and the City of Nashua) to the south, along the Massachusetts border.


This is where Brown must pile up huge majorities. He must also do well in the more conservative areas of Strafford County – strong Tea Party territory — while Smith is expected to do well in that area as well, and of course his home area, the Lakes Region. Rubens is expected to have his strongest showing in the Upper Valley, while the northern part of the state is a toss-up, with Smith expected to do well in Carroll County.


Governor’s race


If Andrew Hemingway can somehow win the GOP gubernatorial nomination, it would be upset of major proportions – a local version of David Brat over Eric Cantor.


That is what Hemingway is counting on. But it’s a tall order.


Although there is a lack of enthusiasm in the GOP over Walt Havenstein, he is fully expected to win by a substantial margin. Anything less will give the Democrats much more to pile on about – as if they don’t have enough already. Even if Havenstein wins big, he will have the longest shot among the top Republican nominees of pulling off an upset in November.


Signs of a Hemingway primary upset would be an extraordinarily low turnout – below the 20 percent predicted by Secretary of State Bill Gardner (which of course would hurt Brown, too) — and Hemingway doing unexpectedly well in the traditional GOP areas near Manchester and points south. We fully expect Hemingway to make a relatively strong showing in the Tea Party-rich Strafford County and in the northern part of the state. Beyond that, we’ll see.


U.S. House races


If Dan Innis is truly to be the David Brat of this election, he must pile up a big majority of Republican and independent votes in the Seacoast, must cut into what is expected to be the base of Frank Guinta’s support in Manchester, Bedford, Goffstown, Hooksett, Merrimack – and pull off wins in the Lakes Region.


It’s a tall order and one we find hard to believe he will achieve. The question is whether the voters of district have become weary of Guinta and are is looking for a change. We’ll know relatively early on this one whether it’s going to be all Guinta, or a long night.


In the 2nd District, the big questions are:a in her home town of Salem? Will her opposition to gambling truly hurt her? If she does lose the town, by how much?


And as for Gary Lambert, how will his own gamble of attacking Garcia on immigration and the Affordable Care Act play with the voters? We believe it has tightened the race from one in which Garcia had a big lead to a very close contest.


With both candidates, along with third candidate Jim Lawrence, based in the southern tier of the huge district, the vast majority of the district is up for grabs with no true geographical edge for Garcia or Lambert. Lawrence’s unqualified opposition to the Northern Pass, we’d expect, will help him in the northern part of the district.


Author: John DiStaso

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