N.H. Democrats Sense Momentum

Posted January 14, 2008 at 6:37pm

Call it a state of political detox.

But now that the presidential primaries have left New Hampshire, campaigns are taking hints and crunching numbers from last week’s contest in hopes of applying them to the state’s three competitive Congressional races.

“New Hampshire’s primary takes so much oxygen that it takes a little while here for people to recover,” said New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Fergus Cullen.

For Democrats, Congressional support in the primary was informally split among two top candidates, while most Republicans and Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) declined to endorse any presidential candidates.

Both Democratic freshmen Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes supported Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Senate candidate and former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D) husband is the former campaign co-chairman for primary winner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y); however, Shaheen herself did not endorse the Senator.

But Democrats all over the state were united in celebrating the fact that turnout almost doubled their 2000 presidential primary totals. Democrats cast close to 290,000 ballots last Tuesday, while Republicans cast about 230,000 ballots.

“Who won or who lost in what percentages isn’t nearly as big as big turnout,” said Shaheen campaign manager Bill Hyers. “People were excited about their candidates, about change. People who were independents, more of them picked the Democratic ticket than the Republican.”

New Hampshire has same-day registration for primary contests, meaning eligible voters can come to the polls that day and vote in whichever primary they like.

Cullen attributed the large Democratic turnout to the focus on the Democratic frontrunners and said he was encouraged that Republican primary turnout increased from the 2006 general election — a contest that flipped both House seats in the state and the Legislature to Democratic control.

Greg Moore, who is running former state Heath Commissioner John Stephen’s (R) Congressional campaign in the 1st district, said he’ll know more about the impact of the Democratic turnout after he analyzes what the independent voters did. Stephen is running against former Rep. Jeb Bradley in the Republican primary, and the winner will take on Shea-Porter.

Moore said the fact that Democrats had a staffing advantage in the state and that independents wanted to weigh in on the highly publicized Clinton and Obama showdown were to blame for high Democratic turnout.

“As a Republican campaign manager, what concerns me moreso than anything is certainly the impact of the Obama effect here in New Hampshire,” Moore said. “Sen. Obama drew a lot of people into the Democratic primary that usually don’t vote.”

Bradley said New Hampshire voters keenly look at individual issues and attributed the Clinton win to her clout with female voters.

“Clinton did very well among women voters in New Hampshire,” Bradley said. “She hadn’t done as well in Iowa. I suspect that they had a very good get-out-the-vote effort.”

Bradley declined to endorse any presidential candidates either, although the majority of his former staffers worked for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R).

“I told everybody early on that I was going to stay neutral, and I stayed neutral,” he said. “I kept my word.”

Bradley acknowledged that he was referring to Shea-Porter’s early comments that she would stay neutral in the presidential primary, before eventually endorsing Obama.

In a phone interview Monday afternoon, Shea-Porter defended her Obama endorsement, saying she was not planning to endorse a candidate unless she felt so compelled, but she said she is is free to endorse whomever she wants.

“Sounds to me like they’re afraid of Barack Obama,” Shea-Porter said.

She added that Obama’s close second-place finish — by a couple of percentage points — was astounding in itself.

“What’s amazing about this is the Clintons have been [in New Hampshire] since 1991 …” she said. “They had the top political structure in the state. They really came first and hired everyone and still, in spite of this, they still almost lost.”

State Sen. Bob Clegg (R), who is strongly considering a bid for the state’s 2nd district seat, said Clinton’s win is not necessarily a plus for Shaheen. He added that Shaheen is not necessarily a “shoo-in” since her husband went on offense against Obama making comments about his alleged drug use in his youth — and soon after stepped down from his spot as campaign co-chairman.

“Folks will remember how she and her husband treated the Obama supporters,” Clegg said of Shaheen. “And folks may not be in her corner when it comes to running against John Sununu.”

In the 2nd district, Clegg and radio host Jennifer Horn (R) were waiting for the presidential primary madness to finish before making a final decision on whether to take on each other — and eventually Hodes. Attorney Jim Steiner already announced he is running, while former Sununu aide Grant Bosse and Iraq War veteran Rick Perkins are both said to be considering running for the GOP nod as well.