A NH Election Postmortem

Scott Brown and Jeanne Shaheen face off in a debate.

Scott Brown and Jeanne Shaheen face off in a debate.

In the aftermath of the midterm elections, the Live Free or Die state was left a pale shade of blue, in sharp contrast to the rest of the nation, now bathed in a deep shade of crimson. Though Republicans easily retook the Senate, extended their majority in the House of Representatives to historic levels, and claimed upsets in a number of governors’ races, the same victory was not mirrored in New Hampshire. The Granite State has always been a state of quirks, with an outsized emphasis on retail politics and a history of electing unexpected candidates. While New Hampshire is often a bellwether for the country, this year it has been remarkably out of step with the country; indeed, it was one of the few states where Republicans did not outperform nonpartisan polling conducted in the days before the election.

NH-1: Carol Shea-Porter (D) v. Frank Guinta (R)

Democratic incumbent Carol Shea-Porter faced a stiff challenge from former Congressman Frank Guinta, who ultimately prevailed narrowly in the hotly contested race. Due to its balanced electorate, NH-1 is exceptionally prone to swing with the national mood, and Guinta’s victory was part of a greater Republican wave that led to a historic Republican majority in the House of Representatives. This is not the first time that Guinta and Shea-Porter have faced off; Guinta won the district in 2010 on the strength of the national presence of Tea Party support and Shea-Porter subsequently won the rematch in 2012. Both Guinta and Shea-Porter are personally unpopular, and there was much animosity between these two leading up to this third election,

During the primary, Guinta managed to fend off Dan Innis, the dean of the University of New Hampshire’s business school. This seat should remain very much in play in 2016.

NH-2: Ann McLane Kuster (D) v. Marilinda Garcia (R)

In a race rated as a tossup by RealClearPolitics right before Election Day, Democratic incumbent Ann McLane Kuster soundly defeated Republican challenger Marilinda Garcia, an expert harp instructor and State Representative. While NH-1 leans ever so slightly Republican, NH-2 leans Democratic, and Kuster was seen as vulnerable but not nearly as endangered as Shea-Porter. A graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Garcia is an expert in healthcare policy who was named a “rising star” in 2013 by the Republican National Committee. Furthermore, Garcia, a half-Hispanic (she is Spanish and Italian) young woman, was a demographically favorable candidate for Republicans.

Garcia soundly defeated Colonel Gary Lambert in the Republican primary. However, she was unable to surmount Kuster’s large financial advantage in the general election, despite help from John Bolton, a neoconservative former UN ambassador under the Bush administration with a powerful super PAC.

Kuster is viewed relatively favorably, and she was able to drown Garcia in a sea of negative attack ads that largely succeeded in portraying her as a right-wing extremist who supported banning all abortion and eliminating the Department of Education. Garcia also faced controversy when she questioned John Boehner’s role as Speaker, causing the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) to temporarily withhold funding from her campaign. Ultimately, the NRCC spent $100,000 in the closing days of the campaign to boost Garcia, but it was insufficient to defeat Kuster.

Senate: Jeanne Shaheen (D) v. Scott Brown (R)

In one of the few sore spots for national Republicans, the contentious Senate race between Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen and Republican challenger Scott Brown was called relatively early for Shaheen on election night. This was the only competitive Senate race in which nonpartisan polls did not display a significant anti-Republican bias, with Shaheen winning by a slightly larger margin than polls predicted she would.

Shaheen, a former Governor, has strong constituent service and is personally popular among the New Hampshire electorate. On the Republican side, Brown had poor favorability ratings, was seen as a carpetbagger, and trailed Shaheen for the entire course of the campaign, often by an embarrassing double-digit margin. However, polls tightened before Election Day, as Brown relentlessly hammered Shaheen for voting with Obama 99% of the time.

Brown, a former Senator from Massachusetts who lost to Elizabeth Warren in 2012, is generally seen as moderate. He won the primary against former state senator Jim Rubens, a libertarian-leaning conservative, and former Senator Bob Smith, a robust social conservative, with less than 50% of the vote. Conservatives in general were not enthused with Brown, which could have contributed to his defeat.

Governor: Maggie Hassan (D) v. Walt Havenstein (R)

Incumbent Democratic governor Maggie Hassan easily defeated Republican challenger Walt Havenstein. Hassan is personally popular, and it is very difficult to unseat an incumbent governor, especially in New Hampshire, where gubernatorial races are held every two years instead of four. Havenstein, an unexceptional engineer and businessman, was unlikely to win against Hassan. He did, however, manage to defeat Andrew Hemingway, a young entrepreneur with a promising future, in the Republican primary.

State Senate, State House, and Executive Council

Preliminary results show the Republicans retaking the state House of Representatives, holding onto the state Senate, and gaining a 3-2 majority in the Executive Council. Hassan will therefore have to contend with a divided government where both the General Court and the Executive Council will check her power. Thus, the nationwide Republican wave dynamic was certainly perceptible in New Hampshire, but a combination of strong Democratic incumbents such as Hassan and Shaheen and weak Republican candidates such as Brown and Havenstein led to a less than stellar performance from the Red Team.