Scott Brown Effect Already Causing Shock Waves in NH

The New Hampshire Union Leader originally published this column on March 28, 2014:

It’s too early to tell whether Scott Brown can sustain the huge initial interest in his U.S. Senate candidacy and convert it into votes, but the Brown effect is producing shock waves, not ripples, on New Hampshire politics.

Preceding Brown’s decision to run was Joe Kenney’s upset victory in the special election for the Executive Council seat formerly held by Ray Burton. That defeat is looking very, very costly for the New Hampshire Democrat Party. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen went from a likely relatively placid cruise to reelection to having to batten down for potentially very rough seas in which she could founder. The same is true for Democrats all the way down the ballot.

Brown’s candidacy may come with a multiplier effect. A month ago, state Republicans were facing the real possibility of not having strong statewide nominees for U.S. Senate or for governor, leaving every down ballot candidate exposed. If the top of the ticket struggled to get 40 percent of the vote, candidates in swing districts would need to run ten or more points ahead of the statewide candidates to win, a tall order. When you combine a weak top of the ticket with an adverse overall environment in an off-year election, you can end up with a rout like 2006 for Democrats or 2010 in favor of Republicans.

Brown’s entry significantly increases the odds of Walter Havenstein, the former BAE Systems executive, or someone else credible running for governor and will help Republicans recruit more and better candidates down ballot, too.

Among those welcoming Brown’s candidacy: incumbent Republican state senators threatened by primaries from libertarian-oriented, sometimes Free State-tainted activists. In a low turnout primary, anything can happen. Two years ago, a guy whose definition of liberty extends to not paying his taxes or his child support got nominated by Republicans in the Laconia-Franklin district, handing a Republican seat to Democrat state Sen. Andrew Hosmer. Having Brown on the September ballot means there will be higher turnout and a somewhat more ideologically diverse electorate. This should make it harder for fringe candidates to upset mainstream conservatives in the primary.

An expanded primary electorate is a similar boost for Republican congressional candidate Dan Innis, who is challenging former Rep. Frank Guinta in September for the right to take on Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in November. Guinta narrowly won his multi-candidate primary in 2010 thanks to backing from Tea Party activists. He would be favored to win a one-on-one contest with Innis if the primary is about which of the two candidates is the more conservative. A bigger, more philosophically nuanced electorate is worth at least several points for Innis.

On the upside for Democrats, there will now be a yet more sophisticated general election voter identification and turnout operation on behalf of Shaheen which will benefit every other Democrat on the ballot. They will try to recreate presidential-level turnout at UNH and Dartmouth.

Others who must be rejoicing at Brown’s candidacy are the sales staff at WMUR Channel 9. Presumably they don’t have to make outbound calls these days and answer the phone saying, “How many ads d’ya want?” The amount of political money that will be spent in New Hampshire this year has just gone up about five-fold. Between the candidates and the better-funded outside groups, they will have trouble finding places to spend it all.

This in turn is great news for New Hampshire’s political cottage industrialists, the group of skilled operatives and ne’er do well hangers-on — it can sometimes be hard to tell the two types apart — sustained by the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. The off-years can be root cellar times for those without patronage jobs on some incumbent’s staff. A bunch of these journeymen and women, worth their salt or not, are about to get issued glossy new business cards with titles including words like coordinator, liason and field.

Here’s predicting Democrats will soon stop using the term “carpetbagger” to describe Brown. Find me the voter who says, honestly, “I would have voted for Brown except that he just moved here, and that’s the only reason I’m voting for Shaheen (or Rubens or Smith).” That voter doesn’t exist, something Shaheen’s polling must already tell her.

Fergus Cullen, a freelance columnist, is a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @FergusCullen.

Author: Fergus Cullen

Fergus Cullen is a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party (2007-2008) and an editorial page columnist for the New Hampshire Union Leader.

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