Primary wrap — five-person discussion to two-party fight

19 Sep

Each weekend I post a “Weekly Wrap,” or my impressions of the race as they played out during the past seven days. This will be the last such post, as Primary Wire’s post-primary coverage will be more limited in scope (as the blog’s name suggests).

With Tuesday’s primary wrapped up, and the candidates moving on to their general election battles or a quieter, post-politics life, it’s time to consider what the voters of New Hampshire said with their ballots.

Here are my top three takeaway points from the election:

1. The national media is great at mis-interpreting individual races

It was quite evident after Tuesday’s primary that the national media, in its effort to pigeonhole large numbers of races into one greater, easily-digestible narrative, often mis-interprets or misunderstands the nuances and significance of individual bids.

Eager to highlight the now-typical Tea Party versus establishment battle, the press painted the Senate race between Kelly Ayotte and Ovide LaMontagne with the same brush as the Mike Castle and Christine O’Donnell race in DE, with an admittedly different outcome. But NH is no DE, and Ayotte is no Castle. Endorsed by Sarah Palin and not exactly moderate in her views, Ayotte’s win was far from an establishment victory and highlighted the degree to which the state has already embraced many of the classically Tea Party principles.

In the CD2 race, most national news outlets described Democrat Ann McLane Kuster‘s win  as a progressive triumph against a name-brand frontrunner, Katrina Swett. But by the final weeks of the primary battle, almost all journalists in the state had predicted a Kuster win, making the national outcry a bit odd. Plus, the Democrat wasn’t really significantly more liberal than her opponent — despite what Swett and Republican Charlie Bass would have the public believe. Both were basically pro-choice liberal Democratic women, with strong family ties to the state and a few important but small differences in opinion on foreign policy and tax cuts. Not exactly a hippie defeating Glenn Beck.

2. Bob Giuda had a huge impact on the race — to Jennifer Horn’s detriment

The Republican candidate who nobody took seriously ended up with 17 percent of the vote in a three-way race — and the right to say that he changed the course of the 2nd district race.

With primary frontrunner and likely favorite in the general election Bass taking only 42 percent of the vote, Giuda’s success likely kept Jennifer Horn (who ended only six percentage points behind Bass) from securing the GOP nomination. Of course, there is probably a ceiling to the number of conservative voters in the state who would have gone for Horn. But even if only half of Giuda’s supporters had switched their vote, former Congressman Bass could have faced defeat on Tuesday.

In what was widely considered to be an easy race for him, Bass couldn’t declare victory until 1 a.m., and there was a point on election night when his staff and supporters looked seriously worried about his chances. The fact that Horn came so close — with Giuda taking almost a fifth of the vote — is truly a testament to her strength as a compelling conservative candidate. It also makes you wonder what the race would have looked like had she had raised enough money to run television ads — or if Giuda hadn’t run.

3. November’s CD2 results are anyone’s guess

While Kuster easily coasted to victory on Tuesday and Bass struggled to take his nomination, Democrats shouldn’t be fooled into expecting a certain win in November. Kuster has certainly made her mark in the state’s political scene and run an impressive campaign, but this election year has proved that voters are fickle creatures who can easily create unexpected results at the polls — and no one has won until the AP calls the race.

One reason Kuster’s Tuesday win isn’t a good predictor is that far fewer people cast ballots in her bid, likely because the CD2 race was the only competitive Democratic primary in the state and the GOP has experienced generally better turnout nationwide. Except for hardcore Democrats who wanted to support Kuster, most independents would have been smart to make their voice heard in the more competitive Republican races.

While Kuster won 71 percent of her race as compared to Bass’s 42 percent, she actually earned about 2,000 fewer votes than he did, because so many fewer people voted in her race. She will have to secure all of Swett’s votes and win some independents to compete with Bass, who has come out ahead in earlier hypothetical matchups and can probably pick up more new votes in November.

On the other hand, I’ve written before that I don’t think Bass will pick up all that many of Horn or Giuda’s votes in the general. There seems to be little crossover appeal between the former Republican Mainstreet Partnership president and the two social conservatives. If Bass can’t secure a portion of those conservative votes and win some independents, he could watch the race slip away from him if Kuster’s supporters come out en masse.

The race will likely to come down in favor of whoever does a better job of characterizing his opponent: either Kuster painting Bass as a washed-up establishment crony, or Bass showing her as a radical, left-wing Obamacare proponent. Neither is a terribly accurate portrayal, but as soon as the race was called, the two began airing ads and making statements to this effect.

As the race picks up, it will be unpleasant to watch the two parties sharpen their tired narratives and caricatures — if the recent uptick in Red Hampshire and Blue Hampshire sniping and sarcasm are any indicators. The candidates have been enveloped by their parties, and the national narratives of red and blue will soon dominate the fight.

The race has moved from a five-person discussion to a two-party battle. And while it will certainly be a fight to watch, Primary Wire is out.

Agree or disagree with my analysis? Feel free to leave a comment below or email me at elizakern [at] gmail [dot] com. I appreciate any comments or criticism, and thanks for reading!

Photos from primary night

15 Sep

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Bass takes GOP nomination by a hair, tells Pelosi to pack her bags

15 Sep

CONCORD, NH — In a primary race that proved nothing is ever a sure thing in politics, Republican Charlie Bass barely eked out a win over conservative underdog Jennifer Horn early Wednesday morning, setting the stage for his matchup with liberal Democratic nominee Ann McLane Kuster in the November election.

Charlie Bass and his wife Lisa speak to reporters and supporters Tuesday night, acknowledging that they could not yet declare victory but that a win looked promising. The AP later called the race for Bass.

In a three-way race with Republican Bob Giuda, Bass’s victory looked uncertain well into the night, when only a single percentage point separated him and Horn. At 12:30 a.m., about two hours after Kuster declared victory in her Democratic primary, Bass told supporters that the gap between him and Horn was growing, and he expected to win his race. At 1 a.m., the Associated Press called the race for Bass.

But in a race where Bass had long been considered a frontrunner by the national media and was running against two opponents splitting the conservative vote, to face a serious challenge from a woman who didn’t have the finances to run television ads must prove a concern for state Republicans.

While Bass did eventually secure the win, there was a point in the night when supporters were quiet and worried, and reporters started drafting stories in case of a Horn victory. Probably not how the former Congressman wanted to stage his comeback.

But when Bass did take the stage, there began to emerge glimpses of the former six-term Congressman who won kudos for his pragmatic leadership and steady, moderate approach to politics. While it’s not his style to dazzle a crowd, he seemed newly energized as he said of national Democrats, ”Madam Speaker, start packing your bags.”

Cheers from moderate Republican supporters — one of whom said Bass has always been “good old Charlie” — buoyed the candidate’s oft-repeated speech about returning to politics to fix Washington and cut government spending.

Bass spoke of making this election “Kuster’s last stand” with a conviction that wasn’t present in his earlier deliveries of the line, and marked the first stages of what will likely be a close and contested November election, in which Bass will try to paint Kuster as a radical, left-wing liberal, and Kuster will portray him as a washed-up D.C. insider.

“I couldn’t stand aside and let this district be represented by two Democrats who are so liberal they make Obama look like Glen Beck,” he said.

And with the GOP nomination called for Bass, his supporters can finally turn their efforts to the ultimate prize: a win on November 2.

Check back later today for Top 5 takeaway points from the race, and photos from the night.

Kuster declares victory, GOP race still undecided

15 Sep

CONCORD, NH — Democrat Ann McLane Kuster easily coasted to victory this evening in her primary match against Katrina Swett. On Tuesday night, with 35 percent of precincts reporting, Kuster had won 68 percent to Swett’s 31 percent.

Democrat Ann McLane Kuster accepts the nomination with her family around her at the victory party in Concord Tuesday night.

Although the numbers will continue to trickle in, Kuster was euphorious Tuesday night when she greeted supporters in Concord, speaking of her desire for unity and bipartisanship in her November race.

“Voters will have a crystal clear choice in November.”

Kuster congratulated opponent Swett on well-fought race, and expressed her excitement to beat the Republicans in November.

“She is a strong, intelligent, and fearless voice for our state. And I promise you Katrina, I will continue that.”

Kuster will face a Republican opponent in the general election, but at 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the GOP race was too close to call.

Frontrunner Charlie Bass was locked in the race with opponent Jennifer Horn, with neither side declaring victory or defeat. Bass seemed confident that he would pull off the win, but votes will continue to be tallied into the night.

Check back later on Wednesday for updates on the GOP race, photos from Tuesday, and analysis of the crazy primary night.

Horn event in Newport shows possible reality of GOP race

13 Sep

NEWPORT, NH — Less than 24 hours before the polls will open in New Hampshire, Republican state legislator Beverly Rodeschin is doing everything she can to get Republican Congressional candidate Jennifer Horn nominated.

Ushering friends and acquaintances into Village Pizza on Main Street, she surveys the crowd to make sure everyone has a seat and enough pizza, and tells them to get excited for Horn’s arrival. She spoke excitedly of her candidate’s endorsement by the Union Leader. But privately, she said she’s not sure how Horn will fare tomorrow.

“Do you think she’s nervous?” she asks me.

Jennifer Horn speaks to supporters in Village Pizza on Monday at noon.

Horn certainly didn’t seem nervous at the packed event in Newport on Monday. She hugged friends and supporters, gave glowing recommendations of the pizza and spoke passionately about why she should be the Republican nominee in November. She proved once again that she’s a strong campaigner who does an excellent job connecting with voters and making them believe in her words.

But with very little money to compete, and facing a challenge from opponent Bob Giuda to capture the conservative vote, a Horn victory on Tuesday isn’t looking likely. Almost all pundits and political reporters in the state have called the race for Republican Charlie Bass, the moderate former Congressman and fundraising leader.

The national media has tentatively predicted that Bass, a moderate, will appeal to more voters than Ann McLane Kuster, the liberal Democrat likely to be his opponent in November. But in talking to Rodeschin, it’s clear that Bass will have a hard time winning the state’s conservative base and coasting to victory in the general, should he win on Tuesday.

“He’s not a conservative,” Rodeschin said. She said she saw his performances in the GOP debate last week, and thought he looked “terrible.” She said she supports Horn because of the candidates’s clear conservative beliefs and likability among voters, although Giuda would be her second choice.

So would she vote for Bass in November, should he become the nominee?

“I would leave that spot blank,” she said, noting that she would still vote for Republicans in other state races.

It’s possible that Bass could still pull off a win with the support of the state’s independent and moderate voters who find Kuster (or Katrina Swett, should she win on the Democratic side) too liberal.

But all the talk of Republicans nationwide getting out to vote and changing the course of the 2010 midterms will be a non-factor in the 2nd district race if New Hampshire’s conservatives like those at Village Pizza on Monday feel that both candidates on the ballot are too centrist to win their vote — or even a trip to the polls.

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