Theoretically, Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic incumbent, should have no trouble reprising her role as the Granite State senator. She served three terms as New Hampshire’s first female governor, whereas her challenger, Scott Brown, only recently sold his Massachusetts property to register his New Hampshire vacation home as a permanent residence. Charges of carpetbagging are rampant, and Brown is not helping matters, having listed his previous employer in his New Hampshire campaign filing as ‘The Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” Yet rather than being a safe bet for Shaheen, the race has only become more competitive as Tuesday approaches. In fact, the most recent poll shows Brown leading. Shaheen has thus far failed to distance herself from the Obama administration in the president’s 6th year, a point in the presidency historically difficult for the president’s party.
New Hampshire has always been characterized as particularly schizophrenic in terms of party loyalty. It was the only New England state to vote for George Bush in 2000, before voting against him in 2004. Gallup reports that 41% of the electorate identifies as Republican, and 44% Democratic.
Several factors work in Brown’s favor. For starters, media markets of Massachusetts and New Hampshire overlap; New Hampshire residents will have heard Brown’s Massachusetts radio ads from past races in addition to his recent marketing. Between both experienced candidates, neither will have a significant name recognition advantage over the other. Additionally, Brown can count on loyal New Hampshire Republicans who drove down to Massachusetts to campaign for him back in 2010. Voters like these and the influx of wealthy Massachusetts Republicans that have been moving to New Hampshire since the 1970s will only add to Brown’s support. Now, in the latest debate and various TV appearances, Brown is emphasizing his ability to reach across the aisle in a strategic move to woo independents and weak-leaning voters. Most importantly, his strategy of pushing hot-button issues (a strategy Shaheen has repeatedly referred to as fearmongering) seems to be working: Brown has criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the Ebola virus, the ISIS threat, and Obamacare, while managing to link Shaheen’s voting record to that of Obama.
Shaheen has not been making matters easy for herself. When asked during the first debate point-blank if she approved of the Obama administration, she waffled, saying, “In some ways I do approve and some things I don’t approve.” Her campaign’s method of addressing Brown’s claims that “Shaheen votes with Obama 99% of the time” has been to distribute factsheets stressing Shaheen’s opposition to Obama when local New Hampshire interests were at stake. It might not be enough. With the clock winding down, Shaheen’s must cut ties with an increasingly unpopular presidency or risk losing altogether.
Furthermore, women tend to be underrepresented among voters during midterm elections. Given that women tend to vote Democratic, Shaheen will need to focus aggressively on her record supporting women’s rights (reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, supporting free access to contraception, extending abortion coverage) to fill the booths come Tuesday with female voters. Her current strategy of emphasizing local issues is not misguided; Brown (who ranks first out of all Senate candidates for donations from finance, insurance, and real estate) cannot compete with her record on small businesses. But this strategy, which has led to neck-and-neck competition between the two candidates, may not be enough.
Shaheen’s campaign is clearly feeling the pressure. It has raised over $13 million to Brown’s $7 million. Incumbencies normally do not need require extensive fundraising, but Shaheen’s campaign is clearly not taking any chances. As we move towards election day, the same themes will continue to play out: Shaheen must call for a homegrown candidate rather than a repotted carbetbagger, while Brown will demand a candidate not in the back pocket of the Obama presidency. This midterm season, New Hampshire is unique in how evenly matched both candidates are.
The competition is so tight that nothing can be taken for granted.
The image featured in this article was taken by Roger H. Goun. The original image can be found here.