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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!


Weekly Wrap — July 18-24

25 Jul

Each weekend I post a “Weekly Wrap,” or my impressions of the race as they played out during the past seven days.

Note: This week marks the end of my reporting in New Hampshire — for now. Unfortunately vacation and school call, but I plan to return to the Granite State to report on the primary (kindness of my professors willing, of course).

Until then, follow me on Twitter at @primarywire for updates on the race.

New Hampshire, it’s been real. I’ll catch you in September.

1. Things are looking good for Ann McLane Kuster

This week brought Kuster an endorsement from the League of Conservation Voters and a mention as one of Democracy for America’s “Grassroots All-Stars.” While not surprising that she would win an environmental endorsement, the move is just another indicator that her campaign continues to gain momentum.

It was good to see Kuster and opponent Katrina Swett begin addressing each other this week. But if the confrontations continue, they could lessen their ability to take on the Republicans in November. So be careful, ladies. It’s a fine balance.

2. Charlie Bass could win — but Jennifer Horn could too

Charlie Bass is the clear frontrunner in the Republican primary. He has the support of Washington and New Hampshire politicians behind him.

He has much more money and fundraising ability than either of his opponents. And as a moderate, he has the best shot at  beating the Democrats in November (or so he told voters in a YouTube video this week).

But in a year when everyone is hating on incumbents and the Washington establishment, I’m reluctant to write off Jennifer Horn’s bid quite yet.

A very conservative candidate challenging Bass to the right, she has consistently won the support of GOP voters in straw polls and could post a serious threat to his candidacy. This week, she won the endorsement of the blog GraniteGrok and conservative NH Cornerstone Action Political Action Committee.

Sure, Horn lost pretty badly in 2008. And sure, she has plenty of debt and a “loser” stigma to overcome. But she’s conservative, hard-working, and passionate — three things that could help her take Bass by surprise in September.

3. The WMUR candidate questionnaires are worth a read

Each of the candidates filled out a questionnaire submited by WMUR, and it’s well worth the read. For instance, Bob Giuda took his first job to be near airplanes, and Katrina Swett loves chocolate so much she named her dog “Cadbury.” A funny mix of answers to remind us that these people have bad taste in movies and music just like we do.

Read their answers here.

Weekly Wrap — July 11-17

18 Jul

Each weekend I post a “Weekly Wrap,” or my impressions of the race as they played out during the past seven days.

With second quarter fundraising reports rolling in and less than two months until the primary, it was a fun week to be in New Hampshire. Here are my observations on the five candidates:

1. Katrina Swett is a smart lady

Bob Giuda’s campaign manager said this to me about a month ago, and I didn’t entirely understand what he meant by it — the Democrat hasn’t been particularly visible on the campaign trail in the past few months.

But as I have watched Swett begin to unveil her campaign and interact with voters, I’ve been impressed with her clear message and determination. She has more than $1 million on hand, extensive name recognition and a clear passion for politics and the people she wants to serve.

Swett is a strong moderate in a state that is reluctant to elect ideologues. The Democrats must feel lucky to have her.

  • Raised this quarter: $187,984
  • Cash on hand: $1,150,607

2. Ann McLane Kuster reminds people of Obama

I’m not saying Ann McLane Kuster is Obama. But when I asked her interns why they were motivated to work for her, they spoke with the deep convictions and starry eyes that graced Obama supporters in 2008 and propelled his buzz words of “hope” and “change” into the modern lexicon.

One young woman told me, “you just know when you see the real deal.” So far, I haven’t seen similar sentiments expressed about any of the other candidates.

Kuster’s challenge in this election will be mobilizing Obama liberals to continue believing in that hope and change that made 2008 historic. She is the underdog, the idealist and the liberal.

She is smart to focus her rhetoric on creating jobs, because if voters get frustrated by the economy or lack of results from national Democrats, her more moderate competitor will pick up votes.

But Americans love an underdog and a populist, and for many, Kuster is “the real deal.” The Democrats must feel lucky to have her.

  • Raised this quarter: $316,307
  • Cash on hand: $745,048

3. Charlie Bass is like vanilla ice cream

Stephanie Micklon, a 62-year-old resident of Salem who served in the NH legislature as a Republican and then a Democrat in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, made this comparison about Charlie Bass when I spoke to her at a fundraiser for Swett. I thought it was a clever description for the moderate Republican who hasn’t shown much pizzaz so far on the trail.

“Charlie I always felt was like vanilla ice cream. If you go into an ice cream store vanilla isn’t your first choice. You probably wouldn’t pick it out. But by itself, it’s fine. It’s not offensive — it’s just blah.”

  • Raised this quarter: $178,749
  • Cash on hand: $370,899

4. Jennifer Horn will always win a seat at the Tea Party

While the candidate lacks broad appeal among voters (who will not forget how she was trounced by Paul Hodes in 2008), there is room for a conservative to Bass’s right in the race. And for many who don’t know of or care for Bob Giuda, Jennifer Horn fits the mold.

Polished, professional and articulate, Horn gives a fresh face to the Tea Party movement and continues to win support from a growing number of conservatives in the state, as evidenced by recent straw polls. She’s a former radio show host who knows how to talk so people will listen, and this has served her well on the trail.

But this hasn’t translated into fundraising might. And whether she can overcome Bass in a state-wide election is still doubtful.

  • Raised this quarter: $50,611
  • Cash on hand: $31,407

5. Bob Giuda is still chugging

While the candidate has raised almost no money and will probably be known as the man who made some seriously questionable remarks about gay marriage, Giuda is still plugging away.

I’m not surprised. He loaned his campaign more than $80,000 so far — he is clearly in the race for strong personal and political convictions. Those weren’t likely to go away with one misstep.

  • Raised this quarter: $4,749
  • Cash on hand: $115,377

Note: Finance numbers came from posts by Red Hampshire, Open Secrets, and The Washington Post. Check out these sources — all are great to look at to learn more about the candidates and fundraising.

Weekly Wrap — June 27 – July 2

4 Jul

Each weekend I post a “Weekly Wrap,” or my impressions of the race as they played out during the past seven days.

This past week has been pretty crazy. Primary Wire got many new visitors after I reported on a series of comments Republican candidate Bob Giuda said about gay marriage.

Giuda sat down with a news outlet to explain his remarks and several bloggers declared that I had caused the “death of a campaign,” (although this was probably a bit dramatic). Read the original story here.

I’m proud of the reporting I did and how the story evolved, although I would welcome your comments or suggestions. Leave one below or email me at

Here are the three things I took away from the experience:

1. Bob Giuda certainly stands behind his words — whatever those words may be

On Monday, Bob Giuda told a group of high school students that gay marriage was the “downfall of the nation,” the cause of the fall of Sparta, and now-famously said “What’s next? Men and sheep? Women and dogs?”

As I wrote these words down in my notebook, I knew that they would cause a stir. And I half expected Giuda to dispute them. They were unscripted, spoken to teenagers arguing with him about controversial topics, and probably not ones campaign managers would advise a candidate to deliver.

But to Giuda’s credit — and in a manner that is quite reflective of what I’ve seen of his campaign so far — he basically stood behind what he said. He unfortunately tried to qualify his statement about animals, but he did not issue a wholesale recall.

There is no doubt that his words were offensive to many people. But you have to hand it to the guy for sticking to his word.

2. But this really wasn’t what Giuda needed

But while the candidate’s sticking to his word were admirable, the words themselves were not — and others were quick to point this out. Gay rights activists as well as other politicians and political commentators labeled the remarks highly offensive, and called on Giuda to apologize.

And as politics guru James Pindell pointed out so aptly, “The most attention his campaign has ever received was on this gaffe.” Bummer.

3. Technology and journalism are each powerful — and together, can make a lethal combo

This statement might seem highly obvious. Of course journalism and technology are powerful. But watching one quote go from the candidate’s mouth to a talking point on the New Hampshire Democratic Party‘s website was really stunning.

In some ways, I thought the experience was more a testament to the failure of the “traditional” news media to cover the race than any of my own journalistic skill. Most papers don’t have the resources or the time to send reporters to every campaign stop,which is understandable, but means I am often the only reporter attending events.

There’s no reason for papers not to hire a tech-savvy intern to do some blogging or camera work, provide a forum for interested readers, or even get political activists to write about their experiences online. I’m as much of a print news junkie as the next girl, but it is a race for the United States Congress, after all. It’s time to get creative in covering it and take advantage of the resources modern journalism can offer.

One such resource that played an important role in this week’s event was Twitter. A micro-blogging website, it has become an invaluable resource both to reporters and politicians working to get their message out to a wider public, and I think it will only continue to do so. (For those politicians who haven’t mastered the art yet, you should. Soon.)

With one re-Tweet from the right person, an obscure blog post like mine can become a virtual internet sensation. While it does promote the sort of “sound bite” media we’ve become accustomed to, it also provides a vast amount of information to interested audiences and makes “on the ground” reporting possible. It also means candidates like Bob Giuda can’t make off-hand remarks and expect them to go un-heard.

It’s certainly not your grandmother’s journalism. But it’s pretty cool.

Weekly Wrap — June 20-26

27 Jun

Each weekend I post a “Weekly Wrap,” or my impressions of the race as they played out during the past seven days.

Below are my top three observations of the week:

1. Republicans are angry, Democrats are anxious

When Ann McLane Kuster said this week that Democrats wouldn’t be beaten by Republicans but by their own hand-wringing, I think she struck a chord with her audience that night.

Democrats gave it everything they had in 2008, electing President Barack Obama on promises of hope and change that would be hard for most individuals to live up to.

And Democrats are worried. They’re worried Obama’s not moving fast enough, that he hasn’t closed down Guantanamo or jump-started the economy as everyone had hoped. They see the prospects of a GOP takeover in the fall and prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it’s understandable that Obama’s approval ratings have taken a dip.

On the right, Republicans have watched the first 18 months of the Obama administration in horror — especially those Republicans in New Hampshire who believe in good old Yankee frugality. Most have been outraged watching the national debt balloon and the federal government spend money with abandon.

2. Republicans focused on party unity, Democrats with connecting

So how these different voter fears have played out within the parties has affected how the candidates campaign — in locations, types of event, and messages conveyed. While the veteran candidates with more name recognition (Republican Charlie Bass and Democrat Katrina Swett) have been slightly less visible in the district so far, the party differences seem to generally hold true.

Most Republican campaign events so far have featured all three candidates in conjunction with the rest of the GOP hopefuls for Congressional, Senatorial, and Gubernatorial offices. There is usually a great show of party solidarity against the Democrats at these picnics, dinners, and ice cream socials where most of the supporters are white, middle-class couples.

Most of the Republican candidates also attend a good number of town GOP committee meetings, where they are invited to talk about why they are running and take questions. These meetings, which are usually sparsely but passionately attended, are probably a good indicator of Republican sentiment and potential for voter turnout — strong and stronger.

The Democrats have campaigned differently so far. Kuster has launched series of house parties, talking to voters in their homes throughout the state, striking a familiar tone with constituents and creating a different atmosphere than formal town meetings. Swett has not been very visible at all, although that will likely change as the primary nears.

But both have worked to highlight their ties to the state, their commitments to traditionally Democratic social causes, and Republican connections to Washington in an attempt to forge personal — over party — relationships with voters.

3. Free Staters: anyone’s guess

An auction at PorcFest, where particpants could bid on a framed Ron Paul picture, handgun holders, bottles of wine, and "Don't Tread on Me" flags.

This is more tangentially related to the campaign, but I attended a portion of the NH Free State Project‘s “PorcFest” this weekend. And boy was that interesting.

At first glance, it was a gun-toting, weed-smoking, Ron Paul t-shirt-wearing free for all. There were people camping everywhere, and no shortage of “Obama Bin Lyin” bumper stickers or alcohol. It was a very peculiar sight.

But the movement, which is organized by Libertarians hoping to move 20,000 people to the state and assert their political influence, gave an interesting sense of New Hampshire’s strong independent streak and often negative reactions toward government.

While most of the PorcFest-goers won’t vote in the New Hampshire primary — many are out-of-state — the fact that they see the state as a friendly receptor of their movement and positive place to live says a lot about the potential future of politics here.

And the future of Ron Paul t-shirt vendors.