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!

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One Response to “Primary wrap — five-person discussion to two-party fight”

  1. Gramps September 19, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    Eliza: Thsat sounds very smart but I haven’t been keeping up enough to understand it. So, I have printed it to show to Nana and we may have an opinion to offer later. But for now, you sound very much like you know what you are saying and you look great in your picture. We can’t wait to see you later this year. Love from Nana and Gramps.

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