The nation’s politicians and political operatives are noodling what Sen.-elect Scott Brown’s victory on Tuesday means for the political climate in their states. My guess is that the reality is there are too many variables for most states to draw a clean comparison analogy. But the Bay State’s neighbor to the north, New Hampshire, may present the most compelling analogy. And that’s bad news for the Democrats.
Voters in New Hampshire and Massachusetts have traditionally been polar opposites. “Taxachusetts” has earned the contempt of Live Free or Die skinflints. But over the past two election cycles (and signs of this can be traced further back), New Hampshire Democrats have been in the ascent and the political climates of these two New England states have, at times, become very similar.
The entire southern boundary of New Hampshire borders Massachusetts and many of the towns on either side are indistinguishable. Tens of thousands of families whose income earners work in Massachusetts nevertheless set up house on the New Hampshire side of the border to take advantage of tax benefits. These areas represent some of the fastest growing communities in New Hampshire. A majority of the state’s population lives in two counties that border Massachusetts, which are occasionally derided as “Massachusetts North.”
Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen was highly competitive in these towns during her 2008 campaign against then-incumbent Sen. John Sununu, winning many and losing some by only a couple hundred votes. By contrast, Scott Brown won every town on the New Hampshire border, some with as much as 70% of the vote. Brown outperformed Mitt Romney’s 2002 numbers in most of these towns. This cannot be a comforting thought to New Hampshire Democratic federal candidates.
In New Hampshire independents are referred to as “Undeclared” voters. In Massachusetts they are called “Unenrolled.” These voters factor huge in New Hampshire, as they represent more than a third of the electorate. And in Massachusetts, they factored huge in Brown’s victory. According to Rasmussen Reports, Brown earned over 70% of the independent vote. This hard swing among New England independents could put the breaks on the Democrats’ rise in New Hampshire.
No doubt a deeper concern for many New Hampshire Democrats is the fact that none of them begins 2010 with footing as firm as Martha Coakley enjoyed at the beginning of the Massachusetts special election.
Coakley started her race with a 30-plus point advantage over Scott Brown. But Democratic incumbent Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.-01) is under 50% in both her favorability rating and her reelect numbers according to recent polling by the University of New Hampshire and CrossTarget, respectively.
Shea-Porter earn earned minor celebrity status during those tense days in August when one of her Congressional town hall meetings devolved into a circus and she dismissed political opponents as “teabaggers,” something she has refused to apologize for.
And New Hampshire Democratic Senate hopeful Paul Hodes (N.H.-02) meanwhile consistently trails former-Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, the Republican frontrunner, and a recent American Research Group poll shows he trails at least one other candidate, Ovide Lamontagne, as well.
Worse, if one accepts the analysis that Brown’s victory is attributable in part to voter rejection of President Barack Obama’s health care plan then Hodes may be in serious trouble. Hodes has doubled down on health care reform. He’s created headlines for attacking Ayotte for not supporting ObamaCare. Hodes appears to have one-upped Shea-Porter in the name-calling department. He referred to opponents of ObamaCare as “the Flat Earth Society.” He has acknowledged that he doesn’t read the bills he votes on because it would slow Congress down.
Most New Hampshire Republicans view Brown’s victory as a clear indication that the winds are finally at their backs after the very cruel 2000s. But state GOP Chairman and former-Gov. John Sununu cautioned Republicans against complacency. “We have had this enthusiasm in the state for a while now,” Sununu told reporters during a Wednesday conference call. “If anything [Brown’s victory] may have a slightly negative effect in New Hampshire by sending a message to the Democrats who have been operating in denial.”
But Sununu is probably trying to keep his base fired up. If a fellow like Scott Brown can get elected in Massachusetts, Democrats in New Hampshire need to be very afraid.
Patrick Hynes, an online Republican strategist, is president of Hynes Communications.