For Democratic gubernatorial candidates, it’s a balancing act.
The candidates must appeal to their respective bases, while also demonstrating that they’re positioned for the general election — no easy task.
Former state senators Jackie Cilley and Maggie Hassan and military man Bill Kennedy are vying for the Democratic nomination. Of the two gubernatorial primaries and the four congressional primaries, the Democratic primary for governor is by far the most intriguing race. The primary election is slated for Tuesday, Sept. 11.
Hassan appears to be toeing the line as a centrist Democrat in the mold of current Gov. John Lynch and former governor and now-Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Lynch has served a record four terms and has opted to call it quits this year. Hassan has taken the pledge that she won’t sign off on a broad-based tax.
Cilley has taken a different approach. She clearly is willing to have a conversation about taxes. That progressive base of the Democratic party is more than ever engaged in New Hampshire. The swing of electoral success in 2006 and 2008 helped to grow more Democrats in the mold of politicians like Howard Dean. That approach for Cilley is certainly making for an interesting primary, but some wonder how she’d be positioned if she were to win the primary.
Rep. Frank Guinta and his challenger Carol Shea-Porter, as well as Rep. Charlie Bass, face primary challenges, but analysts don’t believe any of them face serious competition. For those candidates, as well as Bass’s challenger Ann McLane Kuster, the primary is a small stepping stone toward the general election.
Political analyst Dean Spiliotes said he didn’t expect the congressional primaries to have any impact on the general election.
“I don’t see any congressional candidates tailoring their campaign strategy for a primary run,” Spiliotes said. “They’re moving on to rematches....”
So the real action is in the gubernatorial primaries, particularly on the Democratic side. Ovide Lamontagne, the presumptive frontrunner on the GOP side, is facing off against Kevin Smith. Lamontagne had a big name recognition advantage going into it. Spiliotes said Smith, former executive director of Cornerstone Research, is trying to make the transition from political activist to plausible governor — not necessarily an easy transition. Smith is fighting hard and his campaign seems to have drawn positive reviews, but there is a bit of an aura of inevitability when it comes to Lamontagne.
Going into the final weekend prior to the primary, Spiliotes said he’d be looking to see what approach Cilley and Hassan take. Will Hassan make the case for her own electability and viability versus Cilley? Will Hassan concede at all on her pledge stance, perhaps at least throwing a bone to the progressive base that she’ll want to look at some form of tax reform? Will Cilley keep pushing for a discussion on taxes in this state or will she send signals that she’s trying to move to the center?
John Lynch moderates or Howard Dean progressives
The Democratic primary will go a long way in displaying the depth and the nature of the fissures in the Democratic party. How divided is the party over the issue of the pledge? While Lynch’s centrist model might make for election success, that might not be the actual direction of the party. The primary should provide at least some insight into what that direction is.
“A lot of the activists in the Democratic party are fed up with the pledge politics and the lack of a discussion of a broad-based tax,” Spiliotes said. “If those folks turn out, Jackie Cilley could win, although that could be problematic in a general election.”
In 2002, Democrat Mark Fernald lost badly in the gubernatorial race running as a pro-income tax candidate. But in 2006, the party was reinvigorated with the rejection of President George Bush. The political context changed, Spiliotes said.
“There seems to be a sense among Democrats that maybe they’re not willing to sort of concede on the pledge right off the bat,” Spiliotes said.
Spiliotes will pay close attention to whether Hassan makes an argument centered on viability in the final days of the primary campaign.
“I’ll be looking at Jackie Cilley to see how hard she hits,” Spiliotes said.
Considering it’s a presidential year, the voter demographics in November should be substantially different than in this primary.
While it might seem like the candidates have been running for forever, relatively few people were actually paying attention prior to Labor Day. That’s typically the case, but in a presidential election year it’s heightened even more.
“I think there are a couple things going on,” Spiliotes said. “Obviously, it’s a presidential election year and that takes up a lot of the political oxygen....” Leading up to Labor Day, people typically have a lot of things going on: vacation, getting kids ready for school, getting back to work in some cases. It makes it difficult to zero in on political happenings that to many people may seem never-ending.
“People begin to focus, literally at the last minute,” Spiliotes said. “I do think there is real competition for their attention.”
That people tune in so late in the game can make for interesting electoral happenings. Take 2010 for example: Lamontagne, running in a crowded primary field for U.S. Senate and seeming like a bit of an afterthought particularly given his relatively low fundraising totals, nearly pulled off the upset against now-Sen. Kelly Ayotte. A few things went his way to make it so close, but Lamontagne’s surge happened in the final weekend of the primary campaign.