The 2012 elections confirm that New Hampshire is a blue state, but a unique shade of blue.
You have togo back to 2000 for the last time the Republican presidential candidate got more votes than the Democrat, but that only tells part of the story because George W. Bush only got 48 percent of the vote while Al Gore (47 percent) and Ralph Nader (4 percent) combined for 51 percent. You have to go back all the way to 1988 for the last time the Republican presidential candidate got more than 50 percent. And the trend has been in the wrong direction. While George W. improved to 49 percent of the vote in 2004, McCain garnered only 45 percent in 2008 and Romney essentially matched that with 46 percent in 2012.
The elections for Governor have been almost as barren for Republicans. With the exception of the 2002 election, Democrats have won all of the gubernatorial elections since 1996. A good number of these victories were landslides. The only really close race was in 2004, when Lynch knocked off Benson 51 percent to 49 percent. Even in the tsunami year of 2010, Lynch won by a comfortable margin of 7.5 percent.
Clearly, the Democrat success in electing governors is based on “taking the pledge.” From 1988 through 1994, Republicans didn’t just beat pro-tax Democrats in the gubernatorial races; they demolished them. In 1994, Steve Merrill won an incredible 70 percent of the vote. But that changed in 1996, when Merrill decided not to seek a third term and Jeanne Shaheen took the pledge. She easily defeated Ovide 57 percent to 40 percent, and with the exception of the single Benson term, Democrats have held the governor’s office ever since.
No Democrat, with the exception of Jeanne Shaheen in 2000, has been elected Governor without taking the pledge. Mark Fernald ran explicitly on an income tax in 2002 and didn’t even crack 40 percent. And in 2000 Shaheen did not crack 50 percent, although it should be pointed out that she might have had not Mary Brown (6 percent) run as an independent on a pro income tax platform. Mark Fernald’s blowout loss to Benson only two years later in an election that was a referendum on an income tax suggests that Shaheen’s victory in 2000 was despite of, not because of, her abandonment of the pledge.
And that is what makes New Hampshire a unique shade of blue. While the Democrat mantra in this past national election was that income tax rates on the “rich” need to go up, in New Hampshire Maggie Hassan repeatedly pledged to veto an income tax. A good call on her part when you consider the constitutional amendment to ban the income tax, while it did not get the necessary two-thirds, did get 57 percent of the vote.
And while the ban-the-income-tax amendment came up short, the 57 percent of the vote it garnered is especially impressive considering that a significant percentage of the voters may have been voters who were inclined to vote a straight Democrat line.
There were over 99,000 same-day registrations in 2012, which is 14 percent of total voters. Some of these undoubtedly were new voters turned out by the vaunted Obama machine, while others were voters who had to re-register because they had moved or because of redistricting. Let’s assume that only one-half of same-day registrants were new voters turned out by Obama.
That is still a swing of 7 percent, which suggests that absent this turnout effort the state would have gone to Romney and, assuming the voters turned out by Obama voted straight Democrat and an even split between districts, Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass would have won as well, which is what one would have expected given the sorry condition of the economy. However, Hassan still would have handily defeated Ovide.
Clearly the New Hampshire GOP, and the GOP in general, has to do a much, much better job of identifying persuadable voters and getting these voters to vote. But just as clearly that will not be enough to win gubernatorial elections or, it is probably safe to assume, down-ballot state elections in anti-tax districts where the Democrat takes the pledge.
The major problem that the New Hampshire GOP has in state elections is that it still has not figured out how to run against candidates that take the pledge. Here are some suggestions.
Update the pledge: Instead of pledging just to veto an income and sales tax, pledge to veto any new tax. Or any new tax or any increase in existing taxes. Or expand the pledge to veto any budget that increases state spending more than the rate of inflation.
Pick your battles wisely: I cannot understand the position that civil unions are ok, but civil same-sex marriages are not. What’s the point in fighting that battle?
Draw clear and meaningful distinctions with the Democrats: Any Republican who advocates gambling on the ground that the state needs more revenue should be flogged with a cat o’ nine tails and then be made to walk the plank. Saying the state needs more revenue is just a lovely euphemism for saying we need to grow government. To the extent that Republicans support gambling, it should be as a tax relief measure. The condition antecedent for Republican support of any casino-gambling bill is a statutory guarantee that every penny in taxes collected from casino-gambling reduces existing taxes.
Run better candidates: In many respects, New Hampshire has changed dramatically since the halcyon days of Sununu/Gregg/Merrill. Understand how it has changed and run candidates who can make Republican principles relevant to today’s New Hampshire.