Never mind what happened in Florida in 2000. It was New Hampshire’s four electoral votes that made the difference in electing George W. Bush that year. President Bush carried New Hampshire by fewer than 10,000 votes in 2000, and fell short by the same margin in 2004. In 2008, New Hampshire is a swing state once again.
Let me start by debunking some myths about New Hampshire politics. Democrats like to say that New Hampshire is trending their way. But perspective shows that New Hampshire has long been a competitive state. Thirty years ago, in 1978, we had two Democratic U.S. Senators (McIntyre and Durkin), a Democrat member of Congress from conservative Manchester (Norm D’Amours), and Democrat Hugh Gallon defeated arch conservative Gov. Mel Thomson. One might have said New Hampshire was a Democratic state.
What has changed is that New Hampshire has become less partisan and more independent. Today, about 40 percent of our electorate are undeclared, with 30 percent Republican and 29 percent Democrat. Enrollment in both parties has declined, and that growing middle really is up for grabs. Democrats have discovered that they simply can’t win unless they take The Pledge opposing the imposition of an income or sales tax — a policy triumph for limited government, fiscal conservatism.
Another myth is that New Hampshire’s conservative character and Live Free or Die mindset is being eroded by people moving into New Hampshire from Massachusetts. It is true that New Hampshire is the fastest growing state in New England, and that this growth is driven by in-migration, with more of the new residents coming from Massachusetts than from any other place. But these newcomers choose New Hampshire for better jobs, lower taxes, better schools, and a higher quality of life — conservative reasons aligned with the Republican Party. No wonder our strongest-performing towns are clustered in the southern tier among the commuting communities tied to the greater Boston economy.
But a second group of newcomers is affecting the politics of places like the Lakes Region in central New Hampshire. This group is older, affluent, successful retirees more likely to come from states like New Jersey. They might be cashing out their $600,000 house in the suburbs for a bigger, nicer $300,000 house near Lake Winnipesaukee to be closer to their grandkids. They are less concerned about keeping New Hampshire income tax free, because they don’t earn income they way they used to anymore, but they are concerned about property taxes now that they are on a fixed income. And they liked services like municipal trash pickup and sidewalks that aren’t provided by their new communities. These voters tend to make good targets for Democrats.
John McCain, a two-time winner of our treasured first-in-the-nation primary, has a special bond with New Hampshire independents. With McCain and Sen. John Sununu at the top of the ticket, New Hampshire Republicans hope to regain at least one of our congressional seats and control of at least one house of our legislature this year.