The Hippo


May 25, 2020








Campaign signs in Goffstown. Ryan Lessard photo.

Help or harm from above?
How the presidential race will impact NH races

By Ryan Lessard

 The way presidential races tend to affect state races down the ballot is often described as a tidal force; generally, a solid candidate performance is a rising tide that lifts all boats. But the inverse is true as well, and analysts say 2016 is probably going to be the best example of that in modern memory.

The flood
Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, compares the problems in the Republican party to a flood. And floods like these are more of a risk in swing states like New Hampshire, which has a roughly even balance between Republican and Democrat voters.
“If you [have] a case where one side for whatever reason is more powerful, more unified, one particular year than the other, it’s not like there are levees or barriers to the floods that are all that strong. It’s easy for the other side to get flooded out,” Scala said.
In this case, it’s the Republicans who are getting flooded out, and Scala says it’s Donald Trump who caused it. It can even affect smaller races in the state House and Senate as popular incumbents or reliably Republican districts can no longer take the safety of those seats for granted.
“That’s a concern for Republicans today is how high will the flood waters get? How many candidates through no fault of their own are just kind of the victims of the flood?” Scala said.
Just how bad things have gotten for the Republican party this election was made more evident by a UNH poll released Oct. 19 that shows Hillary Clinton leading Trump by 15 points. Subsequent UNH polls of state races that had previously been too close to call showed a statistically significant lead for Democratic candidates.
“Republicans, I think, are just not happy with Donald Trump,” said Andy Smith at the UNH Survey Center.
The relative unpopularity of both candidates has been a constant factor throughout the election season, but Smith says Trump’s unpopularity in New Hampshire is more far-reaching than Clinton’s. He said Trump needs about 95 percent of state Republicans to vote for him to win New Hampshire, but he only has about 75 percent. Clinton has 87 percent of Democrats. 
In a normal election year, pundits would be paying closer attention to demographics like age, education level and gender and which candidate is doing better among independent voters, but that’s assuming each party’s base will provide virtually full support to their party’s nominee. Those factors matter less this time around; still, Clinton has an edge among independents with 36 percent to Trump’s 24 percent.
Likewise, Trump is very unpopular among women, who are a majority in the state. Clinton is leading among women in the state 57 percent to 30 percent, and she holds a 12 point lead among women nationally according to an Oct. 25 CNN poll.
“You can’t underestimate the importance of female voters in New Hampshire. And the way the gender gap is playing out so far nationally, you can’t help but think that’s going to resonate here in New Hampshire,” Scala said.
Trump is also unpopular among voters with college degrees, and New Hampshire has one of the best-educated populations in the nation. 
In New Hampshire, Trump leads among voters with a high school education or less (47 percent to 32 percent) while Clinton is doing better with college educated voters (47 percent to 30 percent). 
These factors are working against Trump, but the story the polls tell is more directly related to recent events. In particular, analysts point to the 2005 tape of Trump on the set of Access Hollywood talking in lewd detail about groping women. 
While many of Trump’s past comments shocked and awed, they were easily dismissed as aspects of his bombastic personality. These comments, though, have been dubbed by media commentators and politicians on both sides of the aisle as descriptions of “sexual assault.” 
The fallout was immediate, with major Republicans who supported him in the past — including New Hampshire’s own Sen. Kelly Ayotte — withdrawing support and announcing their intention to vote for someone else in the election. 
It was poorly timed for Trump as the tapes were released just before the second debate. After denying when asked by moderators if he had ever done the things he described to women, Trump faced allegations from multiple women who emerged to accuse him of sexually assaulting them in the past.
Early state polls that came out soon after showed little effect among voters; in fact, a WBUR/MassInc poll showed the race in New Hampshire tightening between Trump and Hillary with a difference of 3 percentage points. But Smith said that’s not too surprising, since it usually takes about two weeks for an election event like this to sink in with voters. The more recent UNH polls, Smith said, reflects the fallout of those comments for Trump and other GOP candidates in New Hampshire. Clinton, who already led in the state by 9 points in August, gained another 6 after the video.
Riptide year
The party of Lincoln seems to be in dire straits, with some columnists already writing its obituary. This started during the Republican National Convention and continued after Trump called House Speaker Paul Ryan — the highest-ranking elected official in the GOP — a “weak and ineffective leader” on Twitter. 
Saint Anselm College political science professor Chris Galdieri said these developments are historic.
“I think what we’re seeing on the presidential side is a Republican party that just does not know what to do with itself. You’ve never had a situation where you have so many people within the party explicitly rejecting their party’s nominee,” Galdieri said. “Even if you go back to past blowouts like Barry Goldwater in 1964, what you saw were a lot of Republicans who would not want to talk about it, or just decline to say who they were going to vote for. … This is just literally unprecedented, what we’re seeing.”
Scala said this affects the New Hampshire GOP as well. 
“New Hampshire Republicans going forward would face some difficulties if they become kind of identified as the party of ‘angry white voters,’” Scala said. “That’s an identity problem that the Republicans need to solve.”
Assuming this year is going to be a big success for Democrats in New Hampshire and beyond, how would that compare to past “wave” years?
Spiliotes said the 2006 Democratic takeover and the 2010 Tea Party wave were both reactions to unpopular incumbents, presidential administrations from the opposite party and frustrations over current events (like the war in Iraq for 2006 and the recession in 2010). They were also both midterm elections. The 2008 election, which saw Barack Obama get elected (then a junior Senator who seemed like the outsider in the primary against Hillary Clinton) and Democrats keeping their majorities in the House and Senate. But that is not a wave year in the strictest definition, Spiliotes said.
How does all this compare to 2016? If the predictions of a Democratic takeover in New Hampshire — and to a lesser extent in Congress — become a reality, it will be thanks to forces that behave like the opposite of a wave.
“It’s almost like in the reverse direction. … It’s sort of the reverse of the normal dynamics of a wave election,” Spiliotes said.
Rather than Democrats being propped up by a swell of support for their nominee or united by a common enemy in the form of an unpopular incumbent, war or economic woes, Spiliotes said Republicans might be pulled out to sea by a riptide.
Key to all of this is party unity. While divisions are clear at the national level, they’ve also played a part in New Hampshire. Republicans are not campaigning as a team. Some major GOP candidates like Ayotte and gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu called on Republican Congressional District 1 Congressman Frank Guinta to resign last year over his campaign finance problems. Some candidates support Trump unapologetically while others hedge or don’t support him at all. Ayotte and Guinta, both incumbents, faced primary challengers, while their opponents ultimately did not.
New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Raymond Buckley says GOP candidates are fighting like it’s every man for themselves. Meanwhile, he says Democratic candidates are running as a team from the top down. 
“The real big difference is we have a ticket that is united and working together,” he said.
It’s also well funded compared to past elections. Buckley said thanks to an aggressive fundraising campaign that started last year, they had a stronger grassroots infrastructure. In 2012, they had about 110 to 120 field workers and about 18 offices. This year, they have about 150 field workers and 27 offices. And if you’ve seen a lot of mailers from the NHDP, Buckley said they’ve spent “a couple million” on that this year.
Down ticket
As recently as Oct. 6, Sen. Kelly Ayotte was running ahead of Trump, apparently not getting bogged down by the negative associations with the top of her party’s ticket, when a Suffolk University poll showed her leading Gov. Maggie Hassan in the U.S. Senate race by 6 percentage points. 
Now, the tables have turned. Ayotte is trailing Hassan by 8 points among likely voters and 9 points when undecided voters are pressed to make a choice, according to an Oct. 20 UNH poll. 
The 2nd Congressional District is considered safe for Democrats either way, so political analysts like Dean Spiliotes predict incumbent Ann Kuster will handily defeat her Republican challenger, Jim Lawrence.
“The district has, in the years that I’ve lived in New Hampshire, I’ve watched it gradually shift to the left. That doesn’t seem to be changing,” Spiliotes said.
He said even before recent events Democrats were considered to have an edge in House races, but the 1st Congressional District (between Republican Frank Guinta and Democrat Carol Shea-Porter) would probably have been tight if Clinton’s unpopularity were to depress Democratic and independent turnout.
While turnout seems to favor Democrats based on more recent polls, Spiliotes said another wild card is independent candidate Shawn O’Connor, who originally ran as a Democrat in the primary. O’Connor’s campaign has outspent Shea-Porter’s but hasn’t raised as much.
In another UNH poll released Oct. 20, Democrat Colin Van Ostern came out ahead of Republican Chris Sununu in the governor’s race, 41 to 35 percent. When undecided voters are included, the gap shortens to 44 to 38 percent. However, a majority of voters are still undecided and Sununu leads slightly among independent voters with 35 percent to Van Ostern’s 31 percent. Just weeks before, Sununu was ahead of Van Ostern in a Suffolk poll by 4 points.
Spiraling or turning out
Many of the rosier scenarios for state Republican candidates hinge on a narrow victory for Clinton, according to Scala.
“If Trump loses by 4 points in New Hampshire, then that’s not so bad. Because maybe Ayotte wins narrowly, maybe Sununu wins narrowly and maybe Republicans keep their majority in the state legislature,” Scala said. “But if it’s not 4 points, if it’s 7 or 10, that’s another order of magnitude of difficulty that down-ticket Republicans face.”
So Clinton’s 15-point lead in the most recent poll could mean a virtual Democratic takeover. This is mostly to do with turnout trends. 
While Republican voters may not have anything against the Republican candidates down the ticket, their disenchantment with Trump may demotivate them from going to the voting booth.
“When that happens … when the leaders of a party are in disarray and renouncing the party’s nominee or distancing themselves, you probably get a lot of people who just get disgusted and stay home,” Galdieri said.
Smith says that besides the 75 percent GOP support for Trump (see page 15), there are some signs in the polling process that might lend credence to the likelihood of low Republican turnout. He points to something called the Spiral of Silence theory.
“If people perceive their candidate to be ... unpopular, a candidate who’s not socially acceptable, they’re less likely to put a yard sign in their yard or a bumper sticker on their car, they’re less likely to talk to their neighbors at cocktail parties and so forth about their support for a candidate and they’re also less likely to talk with pollsters about it,” Smith said.
While conducting the UNH polls, Smith found it harder than usual to get Republicans on the phone. That, he says, tends to correspond to low turnout.
Recent polls also showed a strong Democratic advantage in the New Hampshire House, Senate and Executive Council.
The balance of power in New Hampshire is precarious and easily swayed, but to understand just how overwhelming a force the election year is expected to be, one need only look at what’s happening with the U.S. House, which before the Access Hollywood tape came out was expected by all to continue to have a Republican majority. Now even that safety is in doubt.
And if there isn’t a divided government — or even if there’s a less divided government — at the federal level, experts say chances are the Granite State won’t have a divided government either. That will be a change of pace we haven’t seen since before the 2010 midterms. 

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