As New Hamp­shire goes, so goes the Se­nate?

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Ge­orge Will

MANCH­ESTER, N.H.

— in 1936, Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt de­feated Kansas’ Gov. Al­fred Lan­don in 46 of the 48 states, thereby cre­at­ing the jest, “As Maine goes, so goes Ver­mont.” Eight decades later, New Eng­land has gone from the Repub­li­cans’ last re­doubt in a bad year to their least re­cep­tive re­gion in any year. Its six states have made 36 de­ci­sions in the last six pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and the score is Democrats 35, Repub­li­cans 1 — New Hamp­shire sup­ported Ge­orge W. Bush in 2000. Repub­li­cans hold just two of New Eng­land’s 21 con­gres­sional seats, and two of 12 Se­nate seats, those of Maine’s Su­san Collins and New Hamp­shire’s Kelly Ay­otte.

Just nine months ago — time flies when you’re hav­ing fun — Don­ald Trump won his first vic­tory in this state’s pri­mary. Ay­otte could be­come an es­pe­cially re­gret­table part of the col­lat­eral dam­age his cam­paign is do­ing to the party with which he is tem­po­rar­ily iden­ti­fied. But she prob­a­bly will sur­vive his un­der­tow and win a sec­ond term, partly be­cause she is al­most ev­ery­thing peo­ple say they want in pol­i­tics: She is nei­ther old nor rich nor an­gry.

She is 48 and of­ten finds life amus­ing, as she re­cently did con­cern­ing for­mer Demo­cratic Sen. Evan Bayh’s prob­lem. He is try­ing to con­vince In­di­ana to re­turn him as a se­na­tor to Wash­ing­ton, where he has lived and pros­pered since vol­un­tar­ily leav­ing the Se­nate in 2011. When he was re­cently asked the ad­dress of his In­di­ana con­do­minium, he was stumped. Ay­otte, laugh­ing, says, “I prob­a­bly couldn’t tell you my ad­dress in Wash­ing­ton.” There she lives in a base­ment apart­ment, re­turn­ing on week­ends to New Hamp­shire, where her hus­band runs a small land­scap­ing and snow re­moval busi­ness.

This year, New Hamp­shire has what has be­come an Amer­i­can rar­ity, a choice be­tween two grown-ups. Ay­otte is the state’s for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral. Her op­po­nent, Mag­gie Has­san, 58, is end­ing her sec­ond term as gover­nor. Both women have ap­prox­i­mately 100 per­cent name recog­ni­tion and ben­e­fit from what an Ay­otte aide calls “three de­grees of sep­a­ra­tion”: Al­most ev­ery­one in this small state has, or knows some­one who has, met or other­wise had con­tact with the two.

Which works to Ay­otte’s ad­van­tage. She is run­ning by run­ning 5K races, bag­ging gro­ceries, rid­ing all-ter­rain ve­hi­cles in the woods and gen­er­ally smoth­er­ing the state with re­tail pol­i­tics. Has­san, whose chal­lenge is to give vot­ers a rea­son to fire Ay­otte, is re­ly­ing heav­ily on neg­a­tive ads, es­pe­cially ones crit­i­ciz­ing Ay­otte’s path to her cur­rent po­si­tion of re­fus­ing to vote for Trump.

But paid ads of­ten do not dent “three de­grees of sep­a­ra­tion” knowl­edge. Sixty-four per­cent of vot­ers say Ay­otte’s path to sep­a­ra­tion from Trump “makes no dif­fer­ence” to them. Last week, UMass Amherst/WBZ re­leased a poll of likely vot­ers, in­clud­ing those “lean­ing to­ward” a can­di­date, showed Ay­otte with a 4-point lead. Which must re­flect the fact that, in a sur­vey of eight swing states, New Hamp­shire had the largest por­tion of vot­ers (9.7 per­cent) in­tend­ing to vote both for Clin­ton and for a Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date.

New Hamp­shire cam­paign­ing is costly be­cause can­di­dates must ad­ver­tise on Bos­ton tele­vi­sion, which is watched by al­most 85 per­cent of New Hamp­shire vot­ers. Of the state’s 1.3 mil­lion res­i­dents, the 720,000 who will vote for se­na­tor are the tar­gets of the $125 mil­lion — $173.61 per vote — that will be spent on the Se­nate con­test by Nov. 8. Ay­otte will be out­spent on tele­vi­sion by $20 mil­lion — by $10 mil­lion in the last two weeks — but in this pol­i­tics-sat­u­rated state, broad­cast po­lit­i­cal ads may be the equiv­a­lent of wall­pa­per — semi-seen but not re­ally no­ticed.

For 36 years, the Se­nate seat Ay­otte oc­cu­pies has been held by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of a dis­tinc­tive New Hamp­shire Repub­li­can­ism. War­ren Rud­man for two terms and Judd Gregg for three brought flinty fis­cal Pu­ri­tanism to bear on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s mis­man­age­ment of its fisc. New Hamp­shire cur­rently has a Demo­cratic se­na­tor, a mem­ber of Congress from each party, and a close con­test for gover­nor, so were Ay­otte to lose, the state could be en­tirely blue, which does not suit the prickly (“Live Free or Die”) and pur­ple spirit of a state where 40 per­cent of vot­ers are reg­is­tered in­de­pen­dents. In this year’s crowded New Hamp­shire Repub­li­can pri­mary, Ohio’s Gov. John Ka­sich fin­ished sec­ond to Trump. To­day, only 17 per­cent of those who sup­ported Ka­sich sup­port Trump. The cen­ter­right of the Gran­ite State seems likely to de­cide this race, giv­ing rise to the say­ing, “As New Hamp­shire goes, so goes the Se­nate.”

Ge­orge Will is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at georgewill@wash­post.com.

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