Tuesday, September 07, 2010

New Hampshire U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

New Hampshire U.S. Senate

September 7, 2010
56 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Leans Republican

Already down in the dumps, Republicans were very disappointed in early 2009, when popular Republican Senator Judd Gregg was nominated to be Barack Obama's Secretary of Commerce. For one thing, New Hampshire had a Democrat Governor who would be able to appoint a replacement for the Senator. Gregg moved quickly though to cut a deal with the state's Governor, indicating that he would have to appoint a Republican, and a replacement was named, who had somewhat tenuous recent ties to the GOP. However, Gregg then decided that he could not reconcile his policy differences with the Obama Administration and he turned down the job in order to stay in the Senate. That move was considered a slap in the face to the President who had reached across the aisle (perhaps mindful of the Senate situation harming Republicans too) to name him to his Cabinet. It was one of the early embarrassments for the Obama Administration to see Gregg turn on them as he did, and since that decision, he has been a pretty staunch critic of the President.

Still though, Democrats were relieved that Gregg also announced he would not seek reelection in 2010. The President's party had made great gains in the state over the past two cycles and it seemed like another likely Senate pickup for them. Republicans worked hard to try to get Gregg to change his mind and seek reelection, but alas, it became clear that his mind was made up to leave Washington D.C. at the end of his term. In the meantime, Democrats rallied around the candidacy of Congressman Paul Hodes, who had picked up a once strong Republican seat in the 2006 elections.

With Gregg leaving the stage, Republicans looked for a viable candidate. A former U.S. Senator and the two recently defeated Congressmen from the state decided to take a pass on that particular race. The NRSC seemed to get their candidate though when Kelly Ayotte, the state's Attorney General (which is a non elected position there) announced she would be resigning her position to run for the Senate. Ayotte had never run for office before and her ideological profile was not clear, but she was seen as a very likable and appealing statewide candidate.

A week from today, Ayotte is favored to capture the GOP nomination, but is still facing some stiff competition. Her three main competitors in the crowded field include businessmen Jim Bender and Bill Binnie, but closest on her heels may be Ovide Lamontagne, the former State Board of Education Chair, and the conservative GOP nominee for Governor in 1996. In that election, Lamontagne's loss ended a long Republican winning streak and began a stretch in which Democrats have won that office every two years all but once.

As the only woman in the race, Ayotte has an advantage and has the talking point of being able to say she runs the strongest in a general election against Hodes. In fact, several polls showed Ayotte with a large lead in the Republican primary, and she was endorsed by Sarah Palin as one of her "Mama Grizzlies." The Palin endorsement helped Ayotte build up her lead among Republicans but some worried that it could potentially be a double edged sword with the general electorate.

The most recent poll from the state though show the Republican primary tightening up a bit, with Ayotte's nomination definitely not a foregone conclusion. Lamontagne has been endorsed by some Tea Party groups and conservative leaders in addition to the influential Manchester Union Leader newspaper. Bender is also claiming conservative support and Binnie appears to possibly be the choice of some more moderate leaning voters in the party, and has spent a lot of money on the airwaves to put himself in contention. With the vote split along ideological lines, perhaps between conservatives and moderates in some regards, it will be interesting to see what happens on Tuesday. My sense is that Ayotte has enough conservative support of her own to take advantage of a split between the others in the race, and that being the woman in the field will definitely help.

Republicans nationwide should probably hope for Ayotte to hold on next week in her primary. Polls from the past summer have shown her leading the once highly touted Democrat Hodes by double digits, with her support at just about the 50 percent threshold. Polls show Binnie also ahead of Hodes, but by a smaller number. Matched up against Bender and Lamontagne, Hodes had led at points and tailed at others, but it appears it would be a much closer race against those two opponents.

As mentioned yesterday, the Granite State is one that is susceptible to national trends and it looks like it could be a big year for Republicans in the state in regards to the federal elections and the local legislative races down the ballot. If Hodes draws Ayotte as an opponent, the Democrats nationwide will probably all but concede the race to attempt to shore up very vulnerable seats that they hold. If there is a primary upset on Tuesday though, such as what was recently seen in Alaska, the race may move up the radar.

Consider Ayotte the front-runner in the primary for now, and if she can prevail next week, she will be a strong bet to head to Capitol Hill and will be a coveted GOP endorsement back home for her state's First in the Nation Presidential Primary.

Ayotte campaign link:


2010 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 5 D, 17 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 45 D, 40 R