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Friday, May 19, 2006

NH-02: Why Paul Hodes Is a Much Stronger Candidate This Time

Posted by DavidNYC

Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report has put out her latest assessments of the most competitive House races (sub. only). While I think a lot of her analysis makes sense, I do have a bone to pick with her about NH-02. Before I go further, let me just say that I've met Amy in person and talked shop with her at length. She's one of the smartest and friendliest people I've met in DC, so I assure you this is purely a professional disagreement.

Anyhow, this is what she says about NH-02:

Even as the political sands beneath him continue to shift, GOP Rep. Charlie Bass has looked as rooted as ever. In 2004, as John Kerry won the district with 52 percent, Bass scored the biggest victory of his 10-year career taking 58 percent of the vote. Bass has crafted a moderate, independent image that helps to insulate him from charges that he is simply a proxy for the broader Republican agenda.

The question now is if Bass can hold on when the ground beneath him is not simply eroding, but is actually being churned and pulled by a political force that he has never yet had to face. Will voters, who have been willing to split their tickets in years past, continue to stick with Bass even as they voice a higher level of frustration with Congress and the President than they have since Bass has been elected?

A recent UNH poll, suggested that voters here are at least willing to take a look at voting against the GOP incumbent. In the poll, taken April 20-27, Bass was taking just 42 percent of the vote against Democratic attorney Paul Hodes, who was at 35 percent. Bass beat Hodes by 20-points in 2004. It’s not that Hodes looks any stronger, but it’s that the climate looks that much better. On an even playing field, Bass wins. It is only with a huge wave that Hodes can have a chance to win.

It's that last paragraph I take issue with, particularly her claim that Hodes does not "look any stronger." Now, unlike Amy, I'm a partisan and I have a dog in this fight. But the differences between Hodes 2004 and Hodes 2006 are indisputable:

• Hodes got a much earlier start this time. In fact, he never shut down his last campaign committee and has been running for this seat since pretty much the minute he lost in 2004. As Sean Carberry, Hodes' campaign manager last time, explained, the late start was crippling.

• Hodes has raised far more money at this point in the campaign than he did last time. Want to guess how much he had raised in the first quarter of 2004? Zero dollars and zero cents. (See late start, above.) This time, he outraised Bass in Q1 by a big margin, $146K to $102K.

• Hodes, with only 20% name rec, has already raised $329K. Bass, the six-term incumbent, has raised just $354K. It's possible that Bass isn't taking Hodes seriously. But if that's the case, then he's an incredible fool, given the political climate.

• Hodes has a much stronger staff this time, again thanks to his early start. Sean was too polite to really dish on the staff he had to work with, but I can only imagine how slim the pickings were very late in the game in a swing state in a presidential year.

• Unlike last time, Hodes is getting serious support from the DCCC. (In 2004, they gave him a grand total of less than $14K.)

• And finally, Hodes now has some serious experience under his belt. I'm probably going to point to this list again and again and again, but it really seems that most politicians lose before they win. Bill Clinton and Dick Nixon are the norm - it's the Chuck Schumers and Howard Deans who are the exceptions. Hell, Charlie Bass even lost a race for this seat before he won it. The bottom line is that it's hard to know how to win a race until you've run in a race - and now Paul Hodes has that knowledge.

Now, as lawyers would say, the issue here is not relevance - all of these things clearly matter - but how much weight to give all of these facts. It's possible that Amy reviewed all of this information and concluded that Paul is nonetheless not a materially stronger candidate. To my mind, though, all of these differences makes the 2006 edition of Paul Hodes a much more formidable contender than his previous incarnation.

I will grant that these factors do not account for Hodes' strong showing in the recent UNH poll - that's clearly due to the external situation. But if Paul is to make up that seven-point difference and actually win this thing, then everything I've listed here will be instrumental in bringing that about.

Posted at 06:42 PM in 2006 Elections - House, New Hampshire | Technorati

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David, she upgraded the NH-1 and NH-2 races to lean Republican in her competitive race chart. Since that's available to us non-subscribers here you should link to it instead.

The new chart seems to be taking into several things.

In particular, it is taking into account the extreme unpopularity of the Republican brand in the Northeast, and the fact that Republicans in districts won by Kerry aren't safe even if they didn't attract a strong challenger.

Posted by: DemocraticLuntz [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 19, 2006 07:55 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

Oh, I agree with moving the race into the Lean-GOP category. I just disagree with Amy on her description of Hodes.

Posted by: DavidNYC [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 19, 2006 08:22 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

What's the typical arc of name recognition? To me, it seems somewhat disappointing that someone who was on the ballot 2 years ago and then has been campaigning ever since has 20% name recognition. Is that common?

Posted by: bosdcla14 [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 19, 2006 10:11 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

Thanks David, not surprisingly I think you make a solid case. I'll add one other factor. Two years ago, as previous campaign manager Sean Carberry aluded to, Paul was seen by some as a bit of a "warm up act" for John Kerry and then Gubernatorial challenger John Lynch. His race was mostly an afterthought, which is to the advantage of an incumbent like Bass. There was no focus on Bass, and thus his record of voting with the Republican leadership 89% of the time--a much higher rate of acquiescence to the Republican leadership than most other Northeast Republicans--was largely unknown to the independent-minded voters in NH-2.

This time around there will be a much, much greater focus on the Congressional race. Governor Lynch--while certainly not taking anything for granted--is in as secure a position as probably any incumbent governor in the country. (For those who don't know, the governor of NH is elected every two years.) There's no Senate or Presidential contest. And this time Paul will have tremendous resources compared to the bare-boned operation in 2004, so there will be money to communicate to voters. We know that when voters learn about Paul they'll like what he stands for, and they'll be heartened to see that he's not afraid to stand firm and show some backbone. But they'll also discover that Charlie Bass isn't a moderate, that he's just another cog in a broken Republican machine. And with a state Republican party mired in scandal due to the phone jamming scandal from the 2002 election, and the intense disastisfaction New Hampshire voters have with both the President AND the rubber stamp Congress, Bass will be far more exposed than he has been in the past, and he'll have much less help than he'll likely need from the discredited and demoralized state Republican party.

Thanks for the attention you've given to the race. We appreciate your support, but we especially appreciate that for the savvy readership of SSP, you've put a sharp focus on our race, and laid out the empirical, historical and material evidence for why Paul Hodes has an excellent chance of winning the seat in November and contributing to a Democratic Congressional majority in January.

Posted by: staffathodesforcongress [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 19, 2006 10:44 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

bosdcla14, in addition to the things I mention above regarding 2004, it's important to remember that Paul didn't have any real money for communication, and the press was focused on the Presidential run, and the Lynch/Benson contest which resulting in Benson being the only governor in New Hampshire history to be defeated in a reelection bid. Thus, most people had never heard of Paul Hodes until they saw his name on the ballot.

But now he's the first person to run against Bass twice, and in the meantime people in NH have realized he's a serious candidate who's grown tremendously since 2004. He's always been incredibly well-liked and well-known among some circles for his community activism, his non-profit fundraising, and his other career as a musician (often performing with his wife). But now that he's shown how serious he is about being a Congressman by running a second time, the support is far greater this time around. So he's laid groundwork that will get him resources and political and press opportunities that weren't available to him last time, and with no other marquee races sucking up the attention, the name recognition stuff will eventually be addressed.

Posted by: staffathodesforcongress [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 19, 2006 11:10 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

I agree with Ms. Walter that Hodes is not really an A list candidate. Although this does not mean that Bass can not be beaten. When the GOP took over in 1994, several candidates won who really only did so because of the tidal wave.

I think that is what we would have if that came to pass in this race. Pointing to Hodes' fundraising as proof of his improvement as a candidate really only indicates that there are so very few races where there is even a shot.

Banging the Bass-is-really-Tom-Delay drum is useless too, it has not and will not work. The guy is just too independent for that. Try to focus on why Hodes should win! What he would do better.

Just my 2 cents.

Posted by: IndyNH [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 20, 2006 09:55 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

Indy: I think that is what we would have if that came to pass in this race. Pointing to Hodes' fundraising as proof of his improvement as a candidate really only indicates that there are so very few races where there is even a shot.

I'm afraid I don't understand the reasoning behind this statement, especially given that Walter just moved a whole ton of GOP races into more competitive categories yesterday.

Bos: As far as Hodes' name rec goes, 20% sounds about right to me for a situation like this. His name rec in July of 2004 (Granite Poll) was only 20%, and I doubt it got much higher than 30% or so by election day.

Given that the name of losing challenger in an unimportant Congressional race is probably one of the first things that people forget, I'd say holding on to 20% is quite good. You gotta remember that even though Hodes has been running for this seat the entire cycle this time, no one pays attention to House races in the first year of a cycle - it's mostly an opportunity to start fundraising, which helps you lay the groundwork for having the ability to increase name rec in the second year.

Posted by: DavidNYC [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 20, 2006 11:18 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

IndyNH, did you not read Staff's point that "There was no focus on Bass, and thus his record of voting with the Republican leadership 89% of the time--a much higher rate of acquiescence to the Republican leadership than most other Northeast Republicans--was largely unknown to the independent-minded voters in NH-2."

Point being, the guy is not too independent to make that case. You're definitely right that they need to make an affirmative case for Hodes, but running against Bass's actual record, as opposed to the perception that he's moderate, also seems like a reasonable plan.

Posted by: MissLaura [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 20, 2006 04:22 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

This is an important point - it's about making an affirmative case while highlighting the true Bass record. It is critical to make the case that Hodes will be the independent voice for New Hampshire that Bass claims to be, but really isn't. Bass has done a fantastic PR job over the years and has crafted an image in NH that does not square with his voting record. In 2004 we tried to educate people about his record of voting with DeLay 92% of the time. Problem is, we had no money to do a mail campaign necessary to disavow people of their misconceptions.

It was almost a "Manchurian Candidate" situation - we'd talk to people who supported Bass, and the first thing they'd say is how he's so independent. We'd explain his record and how he voted with right-wing party leadership on every critical issue, and people would say, "but he's so independent, he's such a moderate." 12 years of Bass running the same ads saying how independent he is has really conditioned people, and that's why Hodes needs financial help ASAP so he'll be able to run the necessary media campaign to tell people that he'll be the moderate, independent voice Bass pretends to be.

Posted by: carpedonut [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 25, 2006 08:38 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment