As U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said to me last night: “It’s a very good night for Democrats in New Hampshire.”
She and other Granite State Democratic glitterati descended on the Puritan Conference Center in Manchester as Maggie Hassan prepared to take the stage to give her speech in her victory over Republican Ovide Lamontagne as the next governor.
Here are some observations from a reporter’s notebook filled with notes from Election Day:
Lamontagne’s concession: It wasn’t much of a concession at all when he took the stage at Executive Court in Manchester. His first observation was about attack ads, and he wheeled back to them mid-way through the speech, saying: “I’m disappointed the way this night ended after the negative attack ads. New Hampshire’s a better state than that, and needs to be a better state than that going forward.”
Truth is, the Lamontagne side gave as good as it got. His side, too, was responsible for its share of attack ads paid for by out-of-state groups. The most egregious was the portrayal of Hassan as a tax-and-spend liberal as evidenced by the fact that she doesn’t pay taxes on her house in Exeter — when, in fact, her husband is a headmaster at Phillips Exeter Academy, he is required to live in housing provided by the school, school property (as it is everywhere) is not taxed.
The Republican Party needs an overhaul: The GOP needs to remake itself away from the party of white men, both nationally and here in New Hampshire. It needs to recognize the growing and changing demographic, not only of women, but of Hispanics, Latinos, blacks, and gays. Whether it tries to or not, it disenfranchises people on the edges.
One woman told me last night: “Typically, New Hampshire is a good old boy state, and the face of New Hampshire has progressed and changed.”
A rebuke of the tea party: Part of the GOP’s problem this time around was that it let itself be co-opted by the tea party and the far right. It made Mitt Romney more conservative than he actually is. The Mitt Romney who ran for president was not the Mitt Romney who governed Massachusetts. He was not himself and voters saw through that.
Frank Guinta lost his seat in the 2nd Congressional District in part because voters couldn’t relate that his tea party-influenced politics did any good in his two years in the U.S. House. And Charlie Bass, who lost his seat in the 2nd Congressional District, while a more centrist Republican, allowed himself to be painted with a broad brush of being too conservative and out of step with his moderate district.
The tea party helped elect Guinta and Bass in 2010, but the two years of tea party-influenced politics left the country with an image of a do-nothing Congress.
The rise of women: Another Shaheen observation from election night was that “we don’t have folders filled with women, we have ballots filled with women.”
For the first time ever, a delegation to Congress will be made up entirely of women. The New Hampshire delegation come January will include Shaheen, Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Democratic U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in the 1st District, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster in the 2nd District … with Maggie Hassan in the governor’s office.
The gender gap was evident throughout the presidential campaign, the GOP didn’t close it and it trickled down through the ballot here in New Hampshire.
Coattails: Hassan has outgoing Democratic Gov. John Lynch to thank for her strong showing in the polls throughout the state, including normally GOP communities.
There was some ticket splitting, with voters selecting Romney at the top of the ballot but then shifting to Hassan. She aligned herself with the policies of Lynch, saying she would govern in his tradition and manner. Voters, who overwhelmingly approve of Lynch, found comfort in voting to continue that style of governing.
She rode the outgoing governor’s coattails more than she rode President Barack Obama’s.
A surge, not a tsunami: This election does not rise to the level of the Republican tsunami of 2010 in this state that gave the GOP control of the state House, Senate, the Executive Council, and the two seats in Congress.
But it is a significant Democratic surge: More Dems were elected to the House and Senate. While Republicans still have the majority, the political division is a little more balanced. House Speaker William O’Brien, if indeed he is speaker again, won’t be able to be as ruthless about his conservative agenda.
Democrats regained the two U.S. House seats and at least two Democrats have been elected to the Executive Council, breaking the 5-0 GOP dominance.
The big question: Do the results mean more political cooperation, more political consensus, more bipartisanship? That’s the mandate of voters. But will the politicians listen?
Paul Briand is an editor for the Live Free or Die Alliance, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that encourages the discussion and analysis of New Hampshire policies and politics.