VIEWPOINT: Past is not prologue in N.H.

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NORTH CONWAY, N.H. -- Nobody wants to run for the Senate as a Republican in this state.

Well, not exactly nobody. But nobody who isn’t, for want of a better term, a relative nobody.

That astonishing phenomenon is rendered all the more staggering when you consider that the incumbent, Maggie Hassan, is regarded as the most vulnerable Democrat in a Senate where, more than usual, every seat counts. If the Republicans beat Sen. Hassan and a series of other dominos fall in the direction the polls suggest they will, the GOP will take possession of the Senate, one-party rule in Washington will end, Joe Biden’s nominees (including one who might be for the Supreme Court) will be endangered, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will be Senate majority leader, the chairs of every committee will change and the rhythm of the Capitol will be altered substantially.

In short, a big deal. But no big figure wants to take the big step to run for the office.

Gov. Chris Sununu, the most popular New Hampshire governor in years and one of the most popular governors of either party nationwide, this month stepped back from a Senate race. Less than a day later, former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who has a residue of goodwill from Republicans and Democrats alike, did the same. So did former Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, now living in New Hampshire.

“We are seeing a bit of a vacuum on the Republican side,” said Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political scientist. “Once you get past Chris Sununu it’s difficult to find people who don’t look at a statewide race as a big leap. That is the case even though Hassan’s prospects are tied to Biden, and right now the president is a heavy anchor to her. Ultimately the vacuum will be filled, and there is a decent chance of getting a B-level candidate, and a B-level candidate can win this race.”

This Republican predicament is all the more astounding in view of the historical profile of this state. While the Democrats have taken New Hampshire in the past five presidential elections, the tint of this state’s politics is distinctly red, and the Republican bench has always been deep. In the case of New Hampshire, the past is not prologue.

For the 122 years between 1875 and 1997 -- roughly the period between the invention of the telephone and the broad distribution of the cellphone, or the time between the bearded Ulysses Grant and the clean-shaven Bill Clinton -- the Republican domination of New Hampshire was so impenetrable that voters in this state sent only three Democrats to the governor’s office on the second floor of the state Capitol.

For the 156 years between 1855 and 2011 -- roughly the time between the military’s creation of a Camel Corps and its use of armed drones, or between the early planning for the first Black university to the administration of Barack Obama -- 33 of New Hampshire’s 37 senators were Republicans, a phenomenon even more dramatic when you consider that one of those GOP senators served for 27 years and another for 24.

With a Republican lineage like that -- with a tradition of conservatism that retains trace elements today -- the failure of top GOP figures to take a race insiders believe they would win with ease suggests the presence of a broader factor.

Like everything else in American politics, the partial answer comes down to two words: Donald Trump.

Trump loyalists have taken an increasingly prominent place in the formal organization of the New Hampshire. The result is that the Republicans are in the unhappy position of trying to persuade one or more of their congressional candidates to take on the Senate race.,

(c) 2021 DAVID SHRIBMAN 

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