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N.H. voters give Democrats a second chance in many races

A statue of Major Caleb Stark stands in the Dunbarton town center with a flag draped over the front on Tuesday evening, November 6, 2012. According to the plaque accompanying the statue, Stark was the first child of General John Stark and was born in Dunbarton in 1759. He represents the town's minutemen during the Revolutionary War.

(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

A statue of Major Caleb Stark stands in the Dunbarton town center with a flag draped over the front on Tuesday evening, November 6, 2012. According to the plaque accompanying the statue, Stark was the first child of General John Stark and was born in Dunbarton in 1759. He represents the town's minutemen during the Revolutionary War. (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

Just call New Hampshire the Whiplash State.

After four years of Democratic dominance followed by two years of Republican rule, voters yesterday decided to give the Democrats another shot.

They voted to give President Obama a second term, choosing him over Mitt Romney in Romney’s own backyard.

They chose Democrat Maggie Hassan for governor over Republican Ovide Lamontagne.

In the 2nd Congressional District, which includes Concord, Democrat Annie Kuster unseated Republican Rep. Charlie Bass – two years after he beat her.

In the 1st District race – where Republican Rep. Frank Guinta and former Democratic congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter were battling in another rematch – the election was too close to call at press time.

In the New Hampshire Legislature – where 400 seats in the House and 24 in the Senate were up for grabs – overall tallies were unavailable at press time, but some results were notable:

In Concord and Hopkinton, reliably Democratic in recent years, voters chose 15 Democrats and no Republicans for the House.

Republican Speaker Bill O’Brien was re-elected to the House. But Republican Majority Leader Pete Silva, who replaced D.J. Bettencourt after he resigned in disgrace last spring, lost his seat.

Incumbent Democratic Sen. Sylvia Larsen of Concord was easily re-elected in District 15. In one of the most hotly contested Senate races in the state, District 7 went to Democrat Andrew Hosmer over Republican Josh Youssef.

On the five-member Executive Council, which was 100 percent Republican after the last election, at least two seats changed hands: Democrat Colin Van Ostern scored a solid win over Republican Michael Tierney in the race to replace Republican Dan St. Hilaire of Concord, and Chris Pappas beat out Republican Bob Burns.

And in the Merrimack County commissioner race for the district that includes Concord, Boscawen and Webster, incumbent Democrat Liz Blanchard trounced Republican Liz Hager.

Also yesterday, voters appear to have rejected three ballot questions. At press time, measures to permanently ban an income tax, to give the Legislature power over the rules governing the judiciary and to hold a constitutional convention all appeared to have failed.

And locally, in two nonpartisans races, voters elected four members to the Concord School Board: Incumbents Kass Ardinger and Clint Cogswell and newcomer Oliver Spencer won three-year seats. Tom Croteau won a two-year term.

Heavy turnout

New Hampshire residents voted in droves yesterday. The weather was clear and bright, and excitement – particularly for the presidential race – was high. And while polling officials and voting activists worried about the impact of the state’s new voter identification law, officials reported that the process was largely smooth.

In the small town of Deerfield, for instance, Assistant Town Clerk Dottie Hickox reported an 85 percent turnout – and no trouble with voter ID.

Canterbury Town Clerk Ben Bynum reported an 84 percent turnout and just 13 people who arrived without an ID and had to sign an affidavit.

And in tiny Deering, where 1,000 voters counted as an “awesome” turnout in Deputy Town Clerk Sarah Gladu’s book, she said the only people signing affidavits were those who refused to show an ID to protest the new law.

For many voters, the economy was the driving force behind their election decisions yesterday. But that doesn’t mean they drew unanimous conclusions.

Jordan Keach, a 19-year-old student at NHTI, voted for Romney. “The economy is really important to me because I want it to be good when I’m in the real world on my own,” she said.

Tara Croteau, 39, a registered nurse from Belmont, said she’d like to see more products made in America instead of jobs going overseas. Her solution? “I voted a Democratic straight ticket.”

Joe Rhodes, an Obama voter, said he liked the way the economy was headed. “Things are progressing. Maybe not too fast, but that’s good. Too fast is a bubble,” he said.

For some voters, women’s issues – abortion, contraception, equal pay – were on their minds yesterday.

“I have three daughters and two granddaughters, and I don’t feel Romney has their best interest at heart,” said Lisa Mariano, 39, a first-time voter from Manchester. “Personally myself, I don’t believe in abortion. But I don’t feel that anyone has the right to tell any woman that they can’t have one.”

Other voters were tired of hearing about it. “I just am not liking how they’re not concentrating on the big issues and just nitpicking everything. Like how women’s rights are being brought up – whether you’re for it or against it, it just shouldn’t be brought up,” said Kaitlyn Mauele, 20, a New England College student.

Some voters simply weren’t happy with their choices in front of them. “I would have preferred someone else running,” said Lillian Blaikie of Franklin, who voted for Obama for president. “I chose the one that I felt was the lesser of two evils.”

Long campaign

Last night’s vote-counting put an end to campaigning that started so long ago in New Hampshire – particularly for the presidential race – that it’s hard to even remember all the candidates. Remember when Donald Trump looked like a possible presidential candidate? Remember Michele Bachmann? Herman Cain?

New Hampshire basked in its quadrennial dose of international attention during the presidential primary, of course, but the state’s recent status as a swing state – not a sure bet for either Republicans or Democrats – meant that local voters were lavished with attention from presidential candidates and their surrogates all year long.

Even as the presidential campaigns fretted about the votes in enormous swing states like Florida and Ohio, they made clear that New Hampshire’s four electoral votes were critical too. On Saturday, Romney was on the Seacoast.

On Sunday, Obama and former president Bill Clinton drew a crowd of 14,000 to Concord. On Monday, Romney returned for one last rally in Manchester – along with Kid Rock.

In the end, New Hampshire voted for Obama as it did in 2008, for a variety of reasons.

“I feel he’s had a hard time these past four years, and I think he’ll do a better job in the next four years,” said Theresa Rivet, 75, of Webster.

For Sherry Dami, 47, of Laconia, Romney’s disparaging remarks about the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income taxes disqualified him. “I voted Democrat,” she said. “Anybody that says 47 percent of Americans are lame does not deserve to be the president of our country.”

For Debra Willey, 45, a hospital laboratory worker from Concord, health care was key. “I’m in the health-care industry so I voted for Obama for the Affordable Care Act. . . . We’ve done a lot in New Hampshire with health care now, just because of the Affordable Care Act and how it started.”

Of course, not everyone was so impressed. “What has Obama done in the last four years? Except for getting Bin Laden, that’s about the only thing.” said Doris Ploss, 82, a registered Republican from Manchester.

Governor Hassan

At the state level, Hassan and Lamontagne battled for the chance to become New Hampshire’s first new governor in eight years, replacing popular Democrat John Lynch, the longest-serving governor in modern times.

Hassan portrayed herself as Lynch’s successor – moderate and practical. She pledged to work to undo some decisions made by the current Republican Legislature, including significant budget cuts to the university system and community colleges. And she and her Democratic supporters sought to portray Lamontagne as too extreme for New Hampshire, focusing on his opposition to abortion and gay marriage and his desire to undo a 19th-century measure prohibiting the use of state money to support religious schools.

Like Lynch, Hassan took the state’s traditional pledge to veto a broad-based sales or income tax. Unlike him, she told voters she was open to casino gambling.

Her message resonated with voters like Neil Singer, a semi-retired insurance auditor from Goffstown. “I was definitely for Maggie Hassan.
. . . She would be a proponent of moderation,” he said. “I think she would be able to work with both sides of the aisle. And I don’t agree with the way the Legislature has been going with its right-wing social agenda.”

Jane Bergeron, 60, a teacher from Goffstown, made clear that Lynch’s support for Hassan was gold. “I think Gov. Lynch is like next to God,” she said. “And if he endorsed Maggie, that’s good enough for me.”

U.S. Rep. Kuster

New Hampshire’s two congressional races were reruns of the 2010 election – but with different results.

In the 2nd District, which includes Concord and the western half of the state, Kuster announced her intention to run in the 2012 race not long after losing narrowly to Bass in 2010. Her hard work over many, many months paid off.

“You proved that in the Granite State, we’re ready to put politics aside and do what’s right for the middle class and small businesses, for students and seniors, for veterans and hard-working families all across this district,” Kuster told supporters last night.

Although Bass has long presented himself as more moderate than many leading members of his party, he and Kuster differed on numerous issues: the future of Medicare, taxes, plans to cut the deficit and balance the federal budget chief among them. At one point, the campaign even dwelled on a hypothetical statewide income tax – an issue over which members of Congress has no power.

The campaign was fought out in a barrage of sharply worded TV ads and mailers. Some depicted Kuster as a big tax-and-spender. Some portrayed Bass as corrupt.

For some voters, their choice was basically a gut instinct: “I liked her on TV. I like what she said,” Patricia Robitaille, 96, of Windham, on why she voted for Kuster.

In the 1st District, Shea-Porter and Guinta presented themselves as opposites on nearly every issue that could possibly be on voters’ minds. Shea-Porter linked Guinta to the Tea Party; Republicans linked her to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

It was an unusual race in that voters had had both candidates representing them in Congress in recent years: They, more than most voters, were clear on the choice before them. Late last night, the district appeared closely divided.

Legislature

For political junkies in New Hampshire, the fate of the Legislature was nearly as fascinating as the presidential race. The 2010 election had brought Republican super-majorities to both the House and Senate including an agenda that included expanded gun rights, dramatic budget cuts and anti-union legislation.

And while many of their efforts drew vetoes from Lynch, they were also able to overturn several such vetoes.

House Speaker Bill O’Brien drew unprecedented attention – statewide and even nationally – for both the content of the legislation being passed and a contentious new atmosphere in the House. One legislator filed a bill to prohibit bullying at the State House after a particularly intense confrontation with O’Brien; another was removed from Representatives Hall after protesting an O’Brien ruling by uttering “Sieg Heil.”

At press time last night the overall makeup of the House and Senate remained unclear. Hassan told supporters at her victory party that early indications showed a House more evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

Locally, Concord voters elected Democrats Steve Shurtleff, Paul Henle, June Frazer, Jim MacKay, Jane Hunt, Rick Watrous, Dick Patten, Candace Bouchard, Christy Barlett, Mary Stuart Gile, Chip Rice, Katherine Rogers. And in a district for Concord Ward 5 and Hopkinton, voters picked Democrats Mel Myler, Gary Richardson and Mary Jane Wallner.

Republican JR Hoell of Dunbarton held onto his House seat; Democrats Mary Beth Walz and Chris Andrews, both from Bow, took the other two seats in that district.

Republican Rep. Jon Richardson of Allenstown was defeated by Democrat Alan Turcotte.

New Hampshire is an exceptionally political state, given the enormous Legislature and the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. But even here, voters sooner or later get tired of the endless campaign.

Here’s how Tara Croteau, the nurse from Belmont, explained her mood yesterday: “In the forefront of my mind? Not having to listen to any more political ads or get any more trash in my mail.”

(Felice Belman can be reached at 369-3370 or
fbelman@cmonitor.com.)

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