Cook On Concord: A preliminary scorecard for the ’06 election
Now that the water levels from the mid-May rains and legislative activity in Concord have both receded, attention of politicians and media can focus on upcoming New Hampshire elections. First-term Gov. John Lynch, five Executive Council positions, 24 state Senate seats, and all 400 positions in the House are on the ballot. In addition, all county officials — including commissioners, registrars of deeds and probate, sheriffs and county attorneys — are contested. So, what is the presumed political environment in which all of those running find themselves? President Bush is at an all-time low in popularity. The war in Iraq is unpopular. Gas prices are high. There are accusations of ethical lapses in the government. Deficits worry voters. Inflation seems to be looming. Governor Lynch’s popularity ratings seem somewhere in the stratosphere. Should Republicans be worried? Should Democrats be smug? It isn’t that easy. First, Republicans have an institutional advantage, with all of the incumbents who are members of their party. Incumbents win more often than not, and in places like the Legislature, where voters often know incumbents personally, those relationships rather than party or issues often take precedence. Also, given the huge number of seats in the Legislature and the relatively high cost of running for the state Senate ($100,000 or so for a race), it is a real effort for both parties to recruit candidates for all of the seats, so many go uncontested. Therefore, one of the behind-the-scenes efforts for both parties will be to recruit good candidates for all positions, because if the external forces, or “coattails,” of Governor Lynch in his presumed strong race in the fall have an effect, the Democrats will need to have candidates to benefit. Put another way, “You can’t beat something with nothing.” Likewise, the GOP will need to put up candidates in as many races as possible to keep its majority. Results of legislative races will have an obvious effect on leadership of the Legislature, currently in the hands of House Speaker W. Douglas Scamman Jr., a Republican elected with the help of Democratic votes, and Senate President Ted Gatsas, elected with bipartisan support after a fracture in that body. Whether they can retain their positions will be interesting to see. Already, former Majority Leader Michael Whalley of Alton has announced his desire for Scamman’s position.