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Monday, October 20, 2003

New Hampshire

Posted by DavidNYC

I'm going to start my look at each swing state in the top right corner of the map and work my way around. So we'll begin with the Granite State.

Electoral Votes: 4 (4 in 2000)

2000 Results:

Bush: 48.07%
Gore: 46.80%
Nader: 3.90%
Buchanan: 0.46%

New Hampshire stands out among the states Bush won in 2000 for two reasons. First, if you look at the electoral map, you'll notice its sliver of red amidst a sea of northeastern blue. Indeed, New Hampshire is the odd man out in New England, with a very different politics and electoral makeup than most of its neighbors. We'll look at this a bit later.

Second, and more importantly, NH stands out because it was one of two states where the combined Gore/Nader vote was greater than the Bush/Buchanan vote. (Florida, of course, was the other.) In fact, the left-wing vote in NH was three points greater than the right-wing vote.

On the face of it, then, it would seem that NH is ripe for the Dems to take back - if you believe that Green party voters will now (for whatever reasons) vote Democrat. Obviously, the likelihood of this is hard to assess because it depends on so many factors. Will Nader run again? If he does, will he engender the same level of support? If he doesn't run, will Green voters stay home? And if the Greens do vote in the absence of a Nader run, will they pull the lever for the Dem nominee, or will they still go Green, regardless of who their candidate is?

Right now, it's especially difficult to answer any of these questions, though some will become clearer in the coming year. But even if the Greens come back to the Dem fold en masse, we need to look at whether NH might shift from its ultra-close 48-47 split in 2000. And that brings us back to the first issue: NH's quirky politics.

The conventional wisdom is that New Hampshirites favor outsider-types. The results in primary elections indeed bear this out: "Maverick" John McCain beat Bush handily in 2000, for one, and the odious Pat Buchanan managed to stun establishmentarian Bob Dole in `96. Buchanan even snagged 39% of the vote in `92 when he ran against incumbent Bush, Sr.

Part of this has to do with NH's liberal open primary system, whereby independents can choose which party's primary they'd like to vote in on election day. (In New York, by contrast, you can only vote in your own party's primary, and if you want to switch parties, you have to do it months in advance. And independents can't vote in any primaries at all.) In NH, independents in fact make up the plurality of NH voters.

But will this independent streak carry over to the general election? It's hard to say - and, I'll admit, I'm not an expert on NH politics. I can tell you that New Hampshire's entire Congressional delegation (two senators and two congressmen) is Republican, as is the governor. And though I'll take any poll of Bush vs. "Unnamed Democrat" with a major grain of salt, the ARG poll cited below does show a pretty big spread between Rs and Ds. So clearly a lot of independents must be voting Republican.

On the flipside, the last two races where we had a one-term incumbent and a weak economy (`80 and `92), New Hampshire went for the outsiders (Reagan and Clinton) both times. Furthermore, the strong interest in the Democratic primary (combined with the absence of a Republican contest) may have residual effects. Democrats who mobilize in large numbers in January may feel more compelled (and better equipped) to do so again in November. By contrast, their Republican brethren will, for the most part, have to sit idly by until autumn. And lastly, if Dean gets the nomination, it's possible that his outsider credentials will give him a boost here. (I don't think any of the other candidates can successfully claim this sort of mantle.)

Ultimately, I can't provide a good answer my own question - that is, will the GOP/Dem split in NH stay the same in 2004. Evidence points both ways. Of course, there are the Two Huge Unknowns - the economy and the war in Iraq - which will affect every state in one way or another. (And right now, these Bush negatives redound in the Democrats' favor.) But absent any compelling evidence suggesting a GOP or Dem surge in NH, I'm going to say that the outcome in this state rests primarily on what happens with the Green voters.


"If next year's Presidential election were being held today, who would you be more likely to vote for Republican George W. Bush or the nominee of the Democratic Party?" (ARG, 9/16/03)

Bush: 50%
Democrat: 36%
Undecided: 14%

"Which candidate has the best chance of defeating Bush?" (Zogby, 9/26/03)

Dean: 26%
Kerry: 24%
Clark: 19%

Posted at 05:38 PM in New Hampshire | Technorati