Tur­moil in New Hamp­shire

The Standard Journal - - COMMENTARY - By DAVID SHRIBMAN NEA Contributor

DURHAM, N. H. -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 third-party 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.

Ay­otte, who has made a solid rep­u­ta­tion on Capi­tol Hill for her work on na­tional se­cu­rity, is fac­ing a strong chal­lenge from the Demo­cratic gov­er­nor, Maggie Has­san. Ay­otte and Trump are not soul-sib­lings; in a sum­mer­time Wash­ing­ton Post in­ter­view, the real-es­tate-and-casino ty­coon sin­gled her out, say­ing, "We don't need weak peo­ple. We have enough of them. We need fight­ers in this coun­try. But Kelly Ay­otte has given me zero sup­port, and I'm do­ing great in New Hamp­shire."

Since then, in a con­torted po­lit­i­cal move that might win her ad­van­tage in a game of Twis­ter but has only con­fused things here, the sen­a­tor said she will vote for Trump but that she has not en­dorsed him.

The state's lone Repub­li­can House mem­ber, Rep. Frank Guinta, is fully be­hind Trump and, de­spite fed­eral charges he ac­cepted il­le­gal con­tri­bu­tions -- and a New Hamp­shire Union Leader news­pa­per ed­i­to­rial de­scrib­ing him as a "damned liar" -- Guinta pre­vailed in last month's pri­mary, largely on the strength of Trump sup- porters.

Party in­sid­ers say Ay­otte's sup­port in the state ex­ceeds that of Trump and likely will stay that way; she pro­vides a safe har­bor for Repub­li­cans who want to show their party loy­alty by vot­ing for her even as they vote for Clin­ton, the Lib­er­tar­i­ans' John­son or no one at all for pres­i­dent.

"The idea of vot­ing against her be­cause of the Trump fac­tor doesn't hold," said for­mer state at­tor­ney gen­eral Thomas D. Rath. "Peo­ple here re­al­ize they can split their vote."

Ay­otte and her ri­val are play­ing a game of po­lit­i­cal guilt-by-as­so­ci­a­tion. Has­san has tried to tie Ay­otte to Trump. Ay­otte has re­turned the vol­ley by ques­tion­ing why the gov­er­nor con­tin­ues to sup­port a pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee who was soundly de­feated by Sen. Bernie San­ders of neigh­bor­ing Ver­mont in the state's pri­mary. Mean­while, the Union Leader, the statewide news­pa­per and a gen­er­a­tions-long sentinel of Granite State con­ser­vatism, has en­dorsed John­son, the for­mer GOP gov­er­nor of New Mex­ico.

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

Last win­ter, McQuaid wrote that Trump's cam­paign was "an in­sult to the in­tel­li­gence of Repub­li­can vot­ers." The other day he said he didn't know whom his en­dorse­ment helps. "Those two," he said, "are the worst can­di­dates the par­ties have put up in a long time."

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 Post-Gazette (dshrib­[email protected], 412 263-1890). Fol­low him on Twit­ter at Shrib­manPG.

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