New Hampshire Races Remain Close

By John Celock

New Hampshire’s reputation as a swing state remains as a new poll shows close battles for the Senate and the governorship in the Granite State.

A UMass Amherst/WBZ poll released Tuesday shows that Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) narrowly leads Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) for the Senate 46 percent to 43 percent. In the race to succeed Hassan, Democrat Colin Van Ostern narrowly leads Republican Chris Sununu 42 percent to 39 percent.

The poll did indicate good news for Republicans, as Sununu narrows the gap to one point behind Van Ostern when those who are undecided indicate they are leaning towards the Republican. In the Senate race, undecided said they are leaning towards Ayotte, giving her a 48 percent to 44 percent lead over Hassan.

The New Hampshire Senate race has been the most competitive in the country since Hassan entered the race last year. The race is the only to feature an incumbent senator facing off with a sitting governor in the country this year.

Ayotte, a former state attorney general, was first elected to the Senate in 2010, upsetting other favorites in the GOP primary. In the Senate, Ayotte has focused on national security, pairing with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for a focus on those issues. Democrats have spent this year attacking Ayotte, who has worked to craft a moderate image, as a conservative follower of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Ayotte has since taken back her previous endorsement of Trump.

Hassan, a former state Senate majority leader, is in her second two-term as New Hampshire’s governor. Propelled into politics as the mother of a disabled child, Hassan has crafted a moderate image in the governorship. She has spent her second term doing battle with a Republican-controlled Legislature, including a prolonged budget battle with GOP leaders last year. Hassan was considered a top recruit by Senate Democrats.

Sununu and Van Ostern are both members of the state Executive Council, an elected body that functions as a board of directors of state government. Sununu, the son of a former governor and brother of a former U.S. senator, holds one of the most famous names in Granite State politics. Van Ostern has a long history in New Hampshire politics, working as an aide to various Democratic politicians and in state party circles until his 2012 election to the Executive Council.

The gubernatorial race has focused on a partisan battle with Van Ostern painting Sununu as too conservative for the state, while Sununu has described Van Ostern as too liberal. The race has been a continuation of several years of ideological battles in the state, which has seen tea party aligned Republicans take control of the state House of Representatives for two years. In 2015, moderate Republicans teamed with Democrats to elect a moderate Republican speaker over a former tea party aligned speaker.

New Hampshire’s politics has been closely divided for several years with libertarian and tea party Republicans on the rise in the state, with the GOP controlling the state Senate since 2011 and the state House from 2011 to 2013 and since 2015. Democrats won back control of the 400-member state House in 2012, only to lose control in 2014. At the same time, Democrats have controlled the governorship since 2004. Control of the Executive Council has swung back and forth over several years, with Democrats controlling the body during Hassan’s first term and the GOP controlling the body during her second term. The GOP controlled the Executive Council during the last term of Hassan’s predecessor, Democrat John Lynch.