N.H. likes John

On Election Day, Democrats made history in New Hampshire politics when voters rejected both incumbent President George W. Bush and Gov. Craig Benson.

Business consultant John Lynch, 51, became the only candidate nationwide to beat an incumbent governor and the first to unseat a first-term chief executive in this state since 1916.

An impressive display of grass-roots muscle here helped Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry beat Bush in New Hampshire by 1.4 percent.

Bush made an unprecedented number of trips to New Hampshire in an election year – seven – but Kerry’s familiarity with neighboring voters and the difficult aftermath of the war in Iraq were factors in Bush’s defeat.

New Hampshire and its four electoral votes became the only state that went for Bush in 2000 but didn’t make the same judgment four years later.

Kerry even outdid former President Clinton, becoming the first Democrat to get 50 percent of the popular vote here since Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory in 1964.

Independent candidate Ralph Nader played spoiler to Vice President Al Gore, who narrowly lost here to Bush in 2000, but Nader was a non-factor this time, getting only seven-tenths of 1 percent of the vote.

A Republican sweep of the state’s three congressional races, four of five Executive Council victories and 16 of 24 seats in the State Senate dampened talk that New Hampshire was “trending Democratic.’’

The Kerry-Lynch feat only served to solidify New Hampshire’s image as a swing state when it comes to presidential politics.

Lynch spent more than $2 million of his own money in a campaign centered on Benson’s ethical controversies, which ranged from Benson’s use of volunteers to do state business to cash bonuses paid to selected employees.

Benson spent more than $3 million of his own money but failed throughout the campaign to even acknowledge Lynch’s attacks other than to defend the state purchase of a luxury SUV to escort him after saving $200,000 a year on his State Police detail.