Rating Change: New Hampshire Senate Moves to Tossup

Ayotte vs. Hassan race likely to go down to the wire

The latest polls show incumbent New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte faces a competitive challenge from the state's Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The latest polls show incumbent New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte faces a competitive challenge from the state's Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted June 6, 2016 at 2:45pm

New Hampshire voters aren’t usually shy about throwing out their senators and Democrats are hoping to do it again in the fall.  

The race between Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan might be the most competitive race in the country with two high caliber contenders. Both women started the race with high name identification, positive images, and good job approval numbers.  

In 2008, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, a former governor, defeated GOP Sen. John Sununu. Six years earlier, Sununu had unseated Sen. Bob Smith in the Republican primary and then beaten Shaheen herself in the general election. In 2014, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown held Shaheen to a closer-than-expected 51-49 percent victory.  

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Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call Race Ratings

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Granite State voters haven’t sent two Democratic senators simultaneously to Washington in almost 40 years, going back to the late 1970s when John Durkin and Thomas McIntyre held office. In fact, Democrats didn’t have any senators for over 25 years until Shaheen snapped the dry spell in 2008.  

Now Democrats have an opportunity to fill both seats.  

Late last year and into 2016, Ayotte held a narrow lead over Hassan in the polls. But the latest surveys show the senator and the governor within a couple of points of each other.  

A May 25-28 RKM Research poll for Franklin Pierce University and the Boston Herald had Ayotte over Hassan 48 to 47 percent in a general election matchup and both candidates with good personal numbers. Ayotte was at 49 percent favorable/39 percent unfavorable compared to 53 percent favorable/33 percent unfavorable for Hassan.  

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Ayotte has more money than Hassan ($6.9 million vs. $2.9 million in the bank as of March 31) but outside Democratic groups are likely to neutralize much of the senator’s financial advantage. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee reserved $8 million in television advertising for the fall, while the Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC has reserved $7.5 million.  

Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has reserved $6.8 million on Ayotte’s behalf.  

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We’re changing the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rating from Tilts Republican to Tossup .   

New Hampshire is going to be a battleground state up and down the ballot.  

The Republican presidential nominee hasn’t won the Granite State’s four electoral votes since Texas Gov. George W. Bush claimed a 48-47 percent victory over Vice President Al Gore in 2000. Bush lost New Hampshire four years later, but by a narrow 50-49 percent to New Englander John Kerry.  

With Barack Obama on the ballot, the presidential results weren’t as close. Obama won 54-45 percent in 2008 over Sen. John McCain, and a narrower 52-46 percent over Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012.  

The Franklin Pierce/Boston Herald poll had Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton tied at 44 percent in the presidential race and virtually even in their low personal approval ratings. Trump had a 34 percent favorable/62 percent unfavorable rating compared to Clinton’s 35 percent favorable/61 percent unfavorable.  

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Ayotte can over-perform the top of the ticket, but she can’t have Trump collapse in the state. More specifically, the senator needs support from independent women who are not supportive of Trump in order to win re-election, according to an Ayotte ally.  

Ayotte also has to get by former state Sen. Jim Rubens in a late, Sept. 13 GOP primary before taking on her formidable challenger. At least one GOP strategist admitted that Hassan is a tough foe because she is cautious and unlikely to make a game-changing gaffe on the campaign trail.  

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New Hampshire isn’t a must-win for Democrats to win control of the Senate, but a loss would be a disappointment, considering strategists convinced Hassan to give up her re-election as governor to challenge Ayotte.  


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