As Election Day nears, Granite State at the center of political universe

  • Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, Gov. Maggie Hassan (left), stands with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during a rally at St. Anselm College in Manchester last month. The eyes of the nation will be on New Hampshire come Election Day with four key electoral votes up for grabs and a U.S. Senate race that could shift party control. AP

Monitor staff
Saturday, November 05, 2016

Democrat Hillary Clinton is rallying voters in Manchester tonight. President Obama will relay her closing argument from Durham on Monday. Trump will deliver his election-eve speech from the Queen City.

Meanwhile, their allies, ranging from Ivanka Trump to Madeleine Albright, are criss-crossing the state for town halls and diner stops in a last-ditch effort to sway New Hampshire voters.

As the raucous 2016 presidential contest comes to a close, the Granite State remains at the center of the political universe.

The heightened activity reflects the tightening race in New Hampshire. For the first time this cycle, a handful of polls released last week show Trump leading Clinton among Granite State voters.

Trump’s path to the White House relies on winning the state’s four electoral votes. A Republican presidential candidate hasn’t taken the state since George W. Bush in 2000. “It’s imperative. We have to win New Hampshire,” said state Rep. Fred Doucette, a Trump backer.

Clinton’s camp sees a win in New Hampshire as one way to block Trump.

“Nobody is taking New Hampshire for granted,” said Terry Shumaker, a longtime Clinton backer.

The state offers just a fraction of the 270 electoral votes needed to clinch the contest, but it can play an outsized role. Most Democrats painfully remember the 2000 election, when Al Gore lost the state to Bush by little more than 7,000 ballots. Had Gore won New Hampshire’s four electoral votes, he would have won the presidency, even without Florida and its hanging chads.

“Everyone realizes that four votes can be critical,” said Kathy Sullivan, a former Democratic state party chair.

The New Hampshire secretary of state predicts 738,000 voters will turn out on Tuesday, a number that far exceeds past presidential elections.

New Hampshire is one of a few swing states that doesn’t have early voting, meaning campaigns’ get-out-the-vote efforts last through Election Day. It explains why the candidates are barnstorming here through Tuesday, said Dante Scala, professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. An estimated 33 million Americans had already voted by Friday. More than six million people have already cast their ballots in Florida, a major battleground where early voting closed this weekend.

New Hampshire is also home to a number of competitive contests, including the U.S. Senate race, which can be affected by the presidential race. Clinton, Trump and their surrogates presence in the final days can help energize voters for those down-ballot races.

The U.S. Senate race between Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan and Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte is especially key, because it is one of a handful nationwide that could determine whether the chamber remains in Republican hands or flips to Democrats. The next Senate will weigh in on the president’s agenda and decide on at least one U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

Clinton and her allies regularly tout Hassan and other top Democratic candidates at local campaign stops. While Ayotte withdrew support from Trump and hasn’t appeared at any of his events, the businessman often invites local senators or congressional candidates to speak at his rallies.

New Hampshire has picked five Democrats and five Republicans in the last 10 presidential contests. Eight have been winners. Only Democrat John Kerry in 2004 and Republican Gerald Ford in 1976 won New Hampshire in the general election but failed to win the White House.

Democrats have claimed most of the recent victories. The last Republican to win the state’s presidential contest was Bush in 2000. President Obama carried the state in 2008 and 2012.

A Real Clear Politics polling average shows Trump leading Clinton by less than two percentage points. Trump won the primary here by a double-digit margin, his first victory of the race. But in wake of his controversial statements about women and minorities, some Republicans have rejected his candidacy, including former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey.

Clinton won the New Hampshire primary in 2008, but faced a crushing primary defeat this year to Democratic rival Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator has since endorsed Clinton’s campaign and regularly campaigns for her at New Hampshire’s college campuses, where he drew widespread support. But some of his backers are reluctant to back Clinton.

North Country Democrat Richard Johnson voted for Sanders in the primary, but is now turning to Green party candidate Jill Stein.

“We need a third party with a voice,” he said.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)