Tur­moil in New Hamp­shire

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - David Shrib­man Colum­nist

Just the other day this ur­gent mes­sage went out to Trump ac­tivists, or­ga­niz­ers and sup­port­ers in New Hamp­shire:

All in­di­ca­tors show that New Hamp­shire is ab­so­lutely critical to Mr. Trump win­ning the White House. With­out the Gran­ite State’s 4 elec­toral votes, things don’t look good.

Then the statewide or­ga­ni­za­tion for Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign listed 51 “meet-ups,” mostly at Dunkin’ Donuts out­lets, small cafes and pri­vate homes, to mo­bi­lize ef­forts to draw this state into the Trump col­umn next month. Mon­day night the cam­paign held 15 de­bate-watch par­ties across the state, in­clud­ing one at Libby’s Bar and Grill, which bills it­self as a “chill hang­out” on Main Street here in Durham, home of the Univer­sity of New Hamp­shire. Who says the Trump cam­paign doesn’t have a ground op­er­a­tion?

And yet the Trump ef­fort here, like its ef­forts else­where, is being con­ducted amid a Repub­li­can Party in tur­moil.

The re­sult is a cam­paign year that de­fies the def­i­ni­tion that Robert Frost -- who, as per­haps New Hamp­shire’s sig­na­ture cit­i­zen, stud­ied in Hanover, raised chick­ens in Derry, taught in Ply­mouth and cel­e­brated birch “trunks arch­ing in the woods” close by his Fran­co­nia farm -ap­plied to po­etry: a work that “be­gins in de­light and ends in wis­dom.”

But the tur­moil here, in a state Repub­li­cans car­ried in ev­ery elec­tion be­tween 1948 and 1988, with the ex­cep­tion of the Lyn­don John­son land­slide, is es­pe­cially critical. New Hamp­shire is one of a hand­ful of bat­tle­ground states where Trump, Hil­lary Clin­ton and Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­date Gary John­son, all of whom vis­ited here last week, are bat­tling in an in­creas­ingly close con­test.

All of that tur­moil, more­over, is being con­ducted in an environment where the state’s Repub­li­cans, who oc­cu­pied the gov­er­nor’s chair for all but 15 of the 138 years be­tween from 1859 to 1997, are fight­ing to re­tain a critical Se­nate seat and to re­gain a gov­er­nor’s of­fice that once seemed al­most to be their birthright.

The re­sult is a very awk­ward mo­ment for New Hamp­shire Repub­li­cans. The two lead­ing statewide Repub­li­can can­di­dates -- Sen. Kelly Ay­otte, who is seek­ing a sec­ond term, and gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Chris Su­nunu, the son of a for­mer gov­er­nor, the brother of a for­mer se­na­tor and a mem­ber of the state’s Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil -rep­re­sent a re­turn to a Gran­ite State Repub­li­can­ism per­son­i­fied by for­mer Sens. Judd Gregg and the late War­ren B. Rud­man: ide­o­log­i­cal, to be sure, but not doc­tri­naire.

Trump won the vi­tal pri­mary here in Fe­bru­ary by a de­ci­sive mar­gin but now lags in the polls. Clin­ton and her hus­band have won two New Hamp­shire pri­maries (but not this year’s), with Bill Clin­ton break­ing the GOP’s tra­di­tional hold on the state in gen­eral elec­tions by win­ning it both times he ran. Barack Obama also won the state in both of his gen­eral-elec­tion cam­paigns, but had third­party can­di­date Ralph Nader not run in 2000, Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore would have taken the state and the elec­tion -- and the Florida re­count spec­ta­cle would have been avoided.

The Trump can­di­dacy has warped the cal­cu­lus of New Hamp­shire pol­i­tics this fall.

“Now I can sleep at night,” Joseph W. McQuaid, pub­lisher of the news­pa­per, said in an in­ter­view.

Hardly any­one, here or else­where, con­tests that, with the Trump fac­tor a sub­theme in Repub­li­cans’ races else­where this fall. In an­other vi­tal swing state, Sen. Pat Toomey of Penn­syl­va­nia cited Trump’s “vul­gar­ity, par­tic­u­larly to­ward women” and his “lack of ap­pre­ci­a­tion for con­sti­tu­tional lim­its on ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers” as rea­sons he is keep­ing his dis­tance from his party’s nom­i­nee. For­mer GOP Gov. Tom Ridge, the first sec­re­tary of home­land se­cu­rity, has said he wouldn’t vote for ei­ther Trump or Clin­ton.

The one­time New Hamp­shire poet lau­re­ate Don­ald Hall once wrote that “Con­ven­tion speaks merely of four sea­sons; here we num­ber at least a thousand.” The po­lit­i­cal sea­son this time around has been dispir­it­ing. No po­etry in the pol­i­tics here this year.

David M. Shrib­man is ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of the PostGazette (dshrib­man@postgazette.com, 412 263-1890). Fol­low him on Twit­ter at Shrib­manPG.

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