This week's Economist has an article about the New Hampshire Senate race, and it says a lot about the people there. Unfortunately, the text is not available on their web site, so I will copy it here, and put in a plug for The Economist: it's a great magazine, nearly libertarian, and certainly beats TimeNewsweek.http://www.Economist.com
Oct 24th 2002 | DURHAM
From The Economist print edition
NEW Hampshire has an ambivalent relationship with the Bush dynasty. This rural enclave was the only state in New England to vote for George Bush in the 2000 presidential election, giving him four vital electoral votes. But its presidential primary has seldom been kind to the Bushes. In 1992 George Bush senior beat Pat Buchanan by an insultingly small margin for a sitting president; this was to be a warning of disaster to come. In 2000 his son lost to John McCain, igniting an internal Republican revolt that was only stopped by dark deeds in South Carolina.
Now the state has a chance to determine whether President Bush can push his ambitious legislative agenda through Congress. Republicans will be hard-pressed to win control of the Senate if they allow their hold over New Hampshire to be broken. But Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic candidate, is putting up a strong fight against her Republican rival, John Sununu, and stands an even chance of becoming the first Granite State Democrat elected to the Senate since 1975.
New Hampshire has 245,791 registered Republicans, compared with 242,028 independents and just 170,405 Democrats. The culture of the state, from its motto (â€œLive free or dieâ€) to its laisser-faire attitude to adults wearing seat-belts, is thoroughly Republican. The state has one of the lowest tax burdens in the country and no income tax. Republicans control both statehouses and both congressional seats.
The easiest way to get applause in a political meeting is to make a joke about Teddy Kennedy, a man who combines the sins of being a big-government liberal with the even worse sin of coming from Massachussets. It's not for nothing that two of America's most amusing conservative writers, Mark Steyn and P. J. O'Rourke, have houses in New Hampshire.
The Republican establishment also succeeded in engineering a coup during its primary, getting rid of their embarassing incumbent, Bob Smith. Mr Smith had alienated Republicans, both locally and nationally, by leaving the party in a sulk when his bid for the presidency went nowhere, denouncing the Republicans on the Senate floor, and then rejoining them in return for a committee chairmanship. Internal party polls also showed that Mr Smith was likely to lose to Ms Shaheen.
Mr Sununu is a much sounder candidate than his predecessor: a three-term congressman whose father was the state's governor before becoming Bush senior's chief-of-staff. He makes up for his Vulcan-like manner with a willingness to stand up for his principles and a wry sense of humour. He will also get a filip from Craig Benson, a software millionaire, who is boosting the Republican cause by spending over $10m on the governor's race.
Yet Mr Sununu is struggling to capitalise on this natural advantage. A month ago, the polls put him ahead of Ms Shaheen by as much as ten points. Now the lead seems to be alternating, though the latest poll, from the American Research Group, puts Mr Sununu ahead by eight points.
Mr Sununu faces two big problems. The first is the bitter legacy of the Republican primary. A significant number of Mr Smith's supporters plan to take revenge by staying at home, writing in Mr Smith's name, or even voting for Ms Shaheen. Conservatives complain that, thanks to the establishment's double-dealing, the number of â€œmovementâ€ conservatives in the congressional delegation has shrunk from three in 1993 to none today. Buchananites sneer at Mr Sununu's father. Meanwhile some moderates worry that Mr Sununu is not as green as Mr Smith.
The impact of all this is not clear. A poll earlier this month by the survey centre at the University of New Hampshire found that one in four Republicans who voted in the primary would vote for Ms Shaheen. Some analysts speculate that 2-3% of Republicans may write in Mr Smith's name. The closeness of the election and the size of the stakes in Washington will probably reduce both these numbers. But the party's internal squabbles have undoubtedly diverted energy and resources. So far, Ms Shaheen has spent over $5m on the raceâ€”about $2m more than Mr Sununu.
The second problem is Ms Shaheen herself. The three-term governor is a dream candidate for the Democrats: a moderate who supports Mr Bush on tax cuts and Iraq but nevertheless endorses a slew of Democratic spending projects. Ms Shaheen is one of life's head-girls; her fixed smile and Goody-Two-shoes manner give her an uncanny resemblance to the anti-hero of â€œElectionâ€, a film about an insufferable girl who will do anything to become senior class president. But she is making a good job of reaching out to the state's vital independents, painting Mr Sununu as a right-wing ogre and emphasising her friendship with Jim Jeffords, the only independent in the Senate.
The closeness of the race means that New Hampshire is saturated with politics. Radio programmes are interrupted every few minutes by political advertisements. Every lawn has sprouted a sign. The two campaigns will probably end up spending $15m on the Senate raceâ€”an astonishing figure, when you consider that only 300,000 people will turn out to vote.
Whoever wins on November 5th, Arab-Americans will have something to celebrate. Mr Sununu is part-Palestinian and part-Lebanese. Jeanne Shaheen is married to a Lebanese-American. New Hampshire, a state which is often criticised for forcing America's primary candidates to parade before an all-white audience, is about to do its bit for the fortunes of one of America's most overlooked ethnic minorities.