Cook On Concord: The 2008 election in perspective

In the Nov. 5 New York Times, Ethan Bronner wrote the following eloquent words:

“GAZA – From far away, this is how it looks: There is a country out there where tens of millions of white Christians, voting freely, select as their leader a black man of modest origin, the son of a Muslim. There is a place on Earth – call it America – where such a thing happens.”

Americans woke up the day after the election to a new world. Gracious in defeat, John McCain recognized the historic nature of the 2008 Barack Obama victory. President Bush eloquently welcomed it, and people from both parties celebrated a great event of passage, regardless of the candidate for whom they voted.

The victory speech by President-elect Obama was poignant, eloquent and graceful. Americans of all persuasions look forward to the intelligence, vigor and style that undoubtedly will inhabit the White House come Jan. 20.

However, the poetry has quickly ended and the prose must begin. Substantive policy and quick action is needed to address the historically large problems facing the American economy and the world situation. President-elect Obama faces a daunting challenge.


In New Hampshire, 2008 marked the second consecutive election in which Democrats elected controlling majorities in both the state Senate and House of Representatives, indicating that the 2006 elections were not a fluke reaction to an unpopular Bush presidency.

While Republicans picked up approximately 20 more House seats, the Democrats remain firmly in control. Governor Lynch sailed to an easy victory over unfunded GOP candidate Joseph Kenney who ran a credible, if somewhat invisible, race. Democrats retained control of the Executive Council with the same 3-2 majority they held previously.

Probably more fundamental than the individual victories is the shift in the makeup of the New Hampshire electorate. Reports of a study by the UNH Survey Center show that there are now more registered Democrats than Republicans in New Hampshire, although unaffiliated (independent) voters are the largest single voting bloc.

The increase in Democratic voters comes from two fundamental sources: new voters who registered because of excitement generated by the political races during the primary and general election; and immigrants into the state from other parts of the country, notably New England, who are more Democratic than Republican.

This is a fundamental change. Not too long ago, newly arrived New Hampshirites assumed that there had never been a Democratic officeholder and were surprised to learn that in fact there had been. That no longer will be the case.

While the natural tendency of Democratic primaries is to produce candidates further to the left than the general population, and Republican primaries are inclined to produce candidates more conservative than general, both parties would be well advised to understand who is going to win elections in the future.

With the large group of unaffiliated voters by definition willing to vote for candidates of either party, both parties should resist the temptation to have “ideologically pure” candidates with an agenda more aggressive than that shared by the general population.


No sooner had the results been tabulated than the political parties met to nominate their candidates for leadership in the upcoming Legislature.

Democrats renominated Senate President Sylvia Larsen, with Sen. Maggie Hassan for majority leader. Republicans picked Sen. Peter Bragdon of Milford, a 45-year-old conservative known for his vigor and practicality, over the present minority leader, Ted Gatsas of Manchester. This was somewhat surprising, especially since Gatsas has been a tireless worker and obtained a larger majority in his rematch against Manchester attorney Bob Backus than he had two years ago.

In the House, Speaker Terie Norelli undoubtedly will return as speaker and, as noted above, it will be interesting to see how the Democratic majority deals with proposals from Governor Lynch, a fellow Democrat who may be more moderate than the average Democratic legislator.

With all of the problems the Legislature faces during a bad economy, all New Hampshirites should hope that the governor, the legislative minority and majority can work together in the same spirit the country felt when it woke up to find Barack Obama elected as the 44th president of the United States.

Brad Cook is a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association.