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The Economist: Casting Stones in the Granite State
ONE candidate, Jeanne Shaheen, is the only woman ever to have been elected both a senator and a governor. The other, Scott Brown, is the only man ever to have been both a senator and a naked centrefold for Cosmopolitan. Politics in New Hampshire is never boring.
Tall, grey and handsome, he talks fast, thinks fast and interacts easily with voters, even hostile ones. At a town-hall meeting in Stratham on August 26th, he said a cheery hello to the young Democrat whose job is to follow him with a camera, hoping he makes a gaffe. He was polite to a gun-lover who kept pressing him to endorse high-capacity magazines. And he stroked the crowd skilfully. Ann Roemer, a Democrat, says she was so impressed when she first heard him talk that she helped paint his campaign headquarters.
Mrs. Shaheen, by contrast, plods through speeches as if they were shopping lists. Not even her admirers call her rousing. Joan Jacobs, a campaign volunteer, settles for “a very solid public servant”. A visiting reporter calls her “all steak and no sizzle”.
This race matters for two reasons. First, it is one that the Democrats must win. If New Hampshire turns Republican, so will the Senate. And though the polls favour Mrs. Shaheen, they appear to have tightened. A recent one showed her only two points ahead—a statistical tie.
Second, it is a race that casts light on national politics. New Hampshire is a swing state. Its people like guns and hate taxes, yet Barack Obama won here twice. Now, however, many are fed up and blame the president—one hears the word “disappointment” a lot.
That hurts Mrs. Shaheen. Addressing a Rotary Club in Concord on August 26th, she did not mention Mr. Obama’s name until a voter asked about him. Mr. Brown paints the senator as a rubber stamp for the president. Mrs. Shaheen retorts that she voted against the bank bail-out and the closure of more military bases.
Mr. Brown is expected to win his party’s primary on September 9th. He may not be the most conservative Republican (he is pro-choice, for example), but he has the best chance of beating Mrs. Shaheen. Gloomy news helps him. Iraq is in flames. The Islamic State recently beheaded a journalist from New Hampshire, James Foley. Both candidates lament his death, but Mr. Brown is more emotive.