Around the U.S. in 50 Days: Vermont and New Hampshire

Vermont will send Congressman Peter Welch back to the House and Bernie Sanders back to the Senate while giving their three electoral votes to Obama. Actually, I am glad Sanders will be sent back to the Senate. He is that old Ichabod Crane figure that reminds of how silly those liberals and socialists can be.

In a more mainstream state- for New England, that is- like New Hampshire, the story will be a little different. There, Obama won in 2008 with 54% of the vote, certainly less than the 67% in Vermont to the west, the 57% of Maine to the north, or the 61% of Massachusetts to the south. In terms of approval ratings, unlike other New England states where Obama’s numbers remain at or above 50%, in New Hampshire they hover about ten points lower. Should these numbers hold, it spells trouble for him in 2012. Despite national figures, Obama’s numbers in New Hampshire have essentially flatlined in New Hampshire, and that is not good news. In fact, I believe that New Hampshire will give the GOP their only electoral votes- 4 of them- out of New England.

In the Governor’s race, most pundits have it listed as a toss up at this point. Ex-state senator Maggie Hassan is the only declared Democrat for the office while there are two potential Republicans- 2010 Senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne and conservative activist Kevin Smith. Smith’s conservatism and activism may be just a little too much for the voters of New Hampshire. Because they will reject Obama this year does not mean that the state has gone stone cold conservative. I believe that Lamontagne will face off against Hassan and that Hassan will prevail.

This year in politics is one of the strangest in history. Thus far, after three primaries as of the writing of this entry, we have three different GOP winners, the first time this has happened. We have this nominal front runner who seems to be the “well, if he is the best we got, then OK” candidate. We have seen candidates rise and fall from the absurd possibilities like the embarrassing Donald Trump, to the qualified but bumbling Rick Perry, to an ex-Speaker of the House who has more political lives than a skinned cat, to a black candidate run out of the race on a rail amidst a hail of sexual innuendo. We have 33 Senate races where Democrats have to defend more than play offense with a generally unpopular President at the top of the ticket. We have an electorate somewhat defined by two populist groups that represent opposite ends of the political spectrum- the OWS people and the Tea Party. Yet, we find in both of them something to latch onto whether it is smaller government or not bailing out banks. In a way, New Hampshire will reflect this split and this angst in American politics. Yes, they will swing towards the GOP at the top of the ticket, but for Governor they will swing towards the Democrat.

That leaves the House races and I believe the same dynamics will prevail here. The two current representatives are Republican- Frank Giunta in the 1st District and Charlie Bass in the 2nd. Both will face serious challenges in 2012 and, in keeping in the spirit of splitting votes, I believe one of them will go this year. In the 1st, Giunta will likely face 2010 loser Carol Shea-Porter in a rematch. However, she will face some challenges herself in a crowded primary. Running from her left is self-proclaimed and proud progressive businesswoman Joanne Dowdell. From the right, although describing themselves as the 1st District’s moderate choice, is Josef Vernon Hodgkins. And speculation is that the popular mayor of Portsmouth, Thomas Ferrini, may yet enter the race. That speculation was fueled by the fact Ferrini would not run for another term as mayor. That would only split the Democratic vote further. Preliminary polling shows Shea-Porter up on her opponents, but it is still early. In the general election, Giunta leads in all hypothetical match ups, although Shea-Porter comes the closest at a seven-point deficit.

Instead, the more likely Republican incumbent to fall will be Charlie Bass in the 2nd District. Again, this will feature a rematch of 2010 with Ann Kuster likely running for the Democrats. Feeling the worst of the political headwinds are now behind her, Kuster lost by a single point in 2010 and feels the results will be different this time out. She may be correct. Kuster, unlike Shea-Porter, will not face a primary battle. And Bass’ numbers in the state and his district are not exactly stellar.

Like the country as a whole, New Hampshire will split its votes among the political divide. This is not a GOP wave year like the record setting 2010. Nor is it the renaissance of the Democratic Party like 2006-2008 proved to be. Obama’s ccoat tails will help in some places and hurt in others. In a third category, they will make no difference. New Hampshire falls in that category.

Running totals thus far:
Obama with 177 votes to 223 for the GOP;
Net gain of 2 Governors;
Net gain of 4 Senate seats;
Net loss of 8 House seats.

Next: Maine