If New Hampshire conservatives had any doubts about Ayotte, they’ve been asked and answered at this point. What Ayotte’s opponents, especially New Hampshire Democrats, hope is that they can use this issue to reduce her appeal beyond the GOP base. The more they reduce her crossover appeal, the greater the chance they can do to her what they did to another young up-and-comer, John Sununu, in 2008.
— Dante Scala, UNH political science professor, on the electoral implications of Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s vote opposing expanded background checks for gun purchases.
Today, former House Speaker Bill O’Brien announced he is forming an exploratory committee as the first step in a possible campaign against Congresswoman Ann Kuster for the 2nd District congressional seat. O’Brien told WMUR’s Josh McElveen that it was Kuster’s recent vote in favor of the Senate budget that “forced his hand.”
The national Republican Party has changed over the past half-century, dating back to Barry Goldwater going through Reagan going through Bush 43 to the present day, and it’s a party that’s become more southern, more socially conservative, with religious people having more influence. And that is not a good fit for New Hampshire – even New Hampshire conservatives who tend to be a little more libertarian.
— Dante Scala, UNH political scientist, on New Hampshire’s shift from ruby-red Republican to deep purple swing state
New Hampshire voters don’t especially want their governor to be this ideological agent of change. New Hampshire voters want their governor to be on hand in case of an emergency, but they have this idea the governor is being like the mayor of this small town called New Hampshire.
Despite the fact that Gov. Romney has campaigned in New Hampshire off and on for most of the past decade, there’s no evidence that he owns any kind of specific, backyard advantage here in this New England state.
His unfavorables outweigh his favorables here in the state, which is striking given the amount of time he’s spent campaigning here. New Hampshire really is behaving the way it did four years ago, as a Democratic-leaning bellweather state, and nothing Romney has done has changed that.
UNH political scientist Dante Scala analyzes Granite State voting data in presidential elections from 1960 to 2008 and concludes that the “Yankee Republican, that rural stalwart of New England conservative values, has slowly but surely disappeared from the scene.”
The must-read study from the Carsey Institute documents the state’s “slow motion realignment” from reliably Republican to “Democratic-tilting bellwether.” Scala charts the decline of GOP voters in the “Yankee” rural counties in the north and along the Vermont border; and the corresponding growth in the Massachusetts border counties, Hillsborough and Rockingham, which contributed 55% of the votes cast in the 2008 GOP presidential primary.
Scala counters those who argue that New Hampshire is undeserving of its “first in the nation” role in the presidential campaign because it is unrepresentative of the national electorate.
The fate of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and the other competitors will largely be decided by voters who live within the environs of the Greater Boston metropolitan area. As such, they might be a harbinger of how Republicans in other suburbs around the country may choose when it is their turn to cast votes.
Dante Scala, political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, takes a look at the 2012 New Hampshire political landscape:
“They (Democrats) have to hope that voters will wake up between now and next year and say, ‘That’s not what I voted for, and in essence Republicans are misunderstanding or over-interpreting a mandate. We’ve seen this time and again in politics — you win a majority and they say, ‘Well the public wants to do this,’ but it turns out the public isn’t all thrilled with that.”
“It’s early to say what the public’s verdict is going to be. We’re approaching an election too where a lot of other factors are going to be in play. State legislative elections are at the mercy of what’s happening at the top of the ballot.”
“This is not a state that’s 3 to 1 Republican. That’s what the House is right now. They (Democrats) are going to win seats in the Legislature just by showing up. Not just because of voter dissatisfaction, but just gravity.”
“The thing about voters is that philosophically they say government should spend less, but when you ask them about specific things they say, ‘Oh, well, we didn’t mean that.’ The nice thing for Democrats is they can sit back and pick and choose the most unpopular cuts and that’s what they’ll base their campaign on.”
From George H. W. Bush’s presidential campaign featuring the infamous “Willie Horton” ad, to John Stephens’ just-ended New Hampshire gubernatorial race featuring “John Lynch’s sex offender release bill,” Republicans have shown a particular relish for using the threat of violent sex crimes to paint their opponent as soft on crime.
It’s history as prologue. Steve Karnowski reports a Minnesota sex offender pardoned by Gov. Tim Pawlenty two years ago now faces new molestation charges. A three-person pardons board unanimously issued the pardon, but tongues are already wagging that the pardon could become a campaign issue for Pawlenty if he makes a run for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.
So how will it play in New Hampshire? Two of the Granite State’s political observers disagree.
Dante Scala, chairman of the political science department at the University of New Hampshire, said he didn’t think the pardon would hurt Pawlenty much given the vote was unanimous and that the new allegations hadn’t surfaced at the time.
But the pardon won’t help Pawlenty as he attempts to reach out to conservatives in early primary and caucus states, said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
“He’s largely unknown in New Hampshire so any news that comes out like this, if this is what people in the state know him for, it’s not good news,” Smith said.
And he might not be alone. In 2008, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee faced negative campaign ads over his parole of a convicted rapist who subsequently murdered a woman.
On The Exchange, New Hampshire Public Radio’s Laura Knoy and a panel of political observers discuss “the rest of the story” as they preview the races for 400 State House Representatives, 24 State Senators and five Executive Councilors.
Panelists: Dante Scala, Chair of the Political Science Department at the University of New Hampshire and author of the blog Graniteprof. Dean Spiliotes, Civic Scholar in the School of Arts and Sciences at Southern New Hampshire University and author of NHPoliticalCapital.com. Elaine Grant, New Hampshire Public Radio reporter.