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New Hampshire Races

Senate Outlook for 2008

Can Democrats Take Advantage of the Turf?

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New Hampshire

Outlook: Leans Democratic

October 10, 2008 Update:

Incumbent Republican Sen. John Sununu just cannot shake the funk he has been in this election cycle, and things are getting worse before they are getting better. With New Hampshire changing hands towards the Democrats in both the State Legislature and Congress in 2006, as well as criticism both inside and outside the beltway of his voting record, Sununu’s job had already started out hard enough. Now with the economic downturn favoring Democratic candidates across the board, and Barack Obama’s lead in the Granite state growing by the day, our previous argument that John McCain’s coattails may benefit the incumbent considering his popularity in the state seems weaker as we reach November. At this point, it is safe to say that Sununu is in SERIOUS trouble.

Enter Jeanne Shaheen, the former governor and challenger to Sununu when he won this seat back in 2002 (she lost by only four points in a much different political environment both statewide and nationally). Except for a few extreme outliers, she has never relinquished her lead in the polls since polling began. Democrats have flagged this race from the beginning as a potential pickup, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been pouring in money and running ads determined to paint Sununu as a “Stay the course” Senator. Shaheen’s name recognition and popularity within the state put the finishing touches on what seems to be a “perfect storm” against the embattled Sununu. It is worth mentioning that Sununu has been known to close strong, and has kept up with Shaheen’s fundraising efforts while maintaining his large Cash-on-Hand advantage. But things remain bleak, and the economic crisis menacing Republicans throughout the country might just provide the last nail in the coffin for John Sununu.

June 19, 2008 Update:

If 2008 is a redux of 2006, then John Sununu may be this cycle’s Rick Santorum. No, Sununu doesn’t have the national profile of the former Pennsylvania Senator, but his New Hampshire reelection bid seems eerily similar to Santorum’s ‘06 campaign. Both conservative Senators faced popular Democratic challengers with statewide voter recognition and both trailed by double digits in polls throughout the campaign. Analysts expected Santorum’s race to tighten—it never did and Bob Casey won by eighteen percent. Now, Sununu faces the same challenge: how to close a polling gap against Jeanne Shaheen in a poisonous electoral environment.

John McCain will help, as he is perhaps the only Republican who could put New Hampshire into play, but presidential coattails won’t be enough to carry the incumbent across the finish line. If the election were held today, John Sununu would be out of a job, and therefore, Sununu must fundamentally alter the electoral environment before November if he is to avoid Santorum’s fate and secure a second term.

March 25, 2008 Update:

Republican John Sununu is a weak enough incumbent that half a dozen Democrats lined up to take a shot at him. Democrat and former governor Jeanne Shaheen is a strong enough challenger that all the other Democrats backed off. Couple that with fundraising that’s almost neck and neck, and you’ve got yourself with one interesting race.

Without a doubt, New Hampshire has swung quickly from being a Red State, through being a Purple State, and now sits pretty solidly amongst the Blues. Opposition to the war in Iraq drove both of New Hampshire’s Republican Representatives out of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections, and looks like it could be the albatross around Sununu’s neck in this cycle as well.

The other defining characteristic of New Hampshire voting is the huge portion of independent voters. Recent polling shows upward of 40 percent of Granite State voters view themselves as independents; of them, 60 percent are in favor of Shaheen. The double-digit advantage Shaheen has shown in recent polls has to be attributed to that swath of independent votes, since Democrats and Republicans split cleanly along party lines in favor of their respective candidates.

In a race that hinges on independents, the presidential nominee could play a crucial role in deciding New Hampshire’s Senate race. Republican John McCain has always done very well in New Hampshire, and has an ability to bring together coalitions of independent voters. On the Democratic side, Barack Obama has shown much the same ability, but the polarizing figure of Hillary Clinton could drive independents away from Shaheen. For now, though, before we know more about the top of the tickets, all signs point to this race ever-so-slightly tipping in favor of the Democrats.

December 14, 2007 Update:

No state in the nation has moved so quickly from Republican to Democratic in party orientation. This is a state that dislikes both President Bush and the Iraq War, and it showed from top to bottom of the state’s 2006 elections. Freshman GOP Senator John Sununu has his hands full in a re-match with former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D). All major public and private polls show her ahead, some by a wide margin, so for now we’ll list this one as LEANS DEMOCRATIC.

September 24, 2007 Update:

The Democratic field continues to narrow in New Hampshire. Citing the strength of front-runner Jeanne Shaheen’s campaign, Katrina Swett announced that she is dropping out of the race for the Democratic nomination. Her announcement came shortly after Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand also pulled out of the race. Only former astronaut Jay Buckey remains in the Democratic contest. With the Democratic field getting less and less contentious, Shaheen looks to gain even more of an advantage over Republican incumbent John Sununu.


New Hampshire is a whole new ballgame. Former Governor Jeanne Shaheen has thrown her hat in the ring for the Senate seat currently held by Republican John Sununu, sending the Democratic nominating process into a full-on shake up. Portsmouth’s Democratic mayor, Steve Marchand, has lived up to a promise he made early in 2007, bowing out and throwing his weight behind Shaheen’s efforts. The two other Democratic candidates, Katrina Swett and Jay Buckey, have both kept their campaigns going even after Shaheen’s announcement. Shaheen is a heavy favorite to be the Democratic nominee, however. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is sure to back her strongly.

Sununu’s unpopularity (his approval rating hovers around 45%, not good news for an incumbent) has given rise to predictions that he will be overtaken in the 2008 Senate election. Even with some moderate votes on social issues, Sununu is handicapped by his dogged support for the Iraq war–a giant albatross around his political neck. New Hampshire voters made it very clear during the 2006 midterm elections that they were displeased with the war in Iraq: both Republican congressmen were run out of Washington.

Assuming the contest comes down to Sununu vs. Shaheen, we’ll see two candidates with some history between them: in the GOP-inclined 2002 Senate election, Sununu edged Shaheen 51 percent to 46. However, in a July poll, Shaheen led Sununu by sixteen points. With New Hampshire’s movement to the left since their last battle, Shaheen seems to be the early favorite.


John Sununu (I) – Republican – current U.S. Senator

Jeanne Shaheen – Democrat – former Governor of New Hampshire