Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Liberal Groups Test Bass Attack in New Hampshire

In Election Analysis, House on June 6, 2011 at 10:13 pm

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America teamed up to produce a negative issue ad against Rep. Charlie Bass (R-NH-2), ostensibly because he voted in favor of the Ryan Budget. Since the groups are only spending $25,000 on the television buy, the effort is being done to test messages and theme. This particular ad says Bass “voted to end Medicare”, which presumably refers to the Ryan plan but such is not identified in the script’s text.

Expect the Medicare issue to be a focal point of the 2012 campaign. Democrats and left-wing groups are clearly stepping up this line of attack in light of Rep. Kathy Hochul’s victory in the NY-26 special election. Debate continues about whether Hochul’s offensive play on Medicare was the defining point of her campaign – the fact that Republican turnout was low suggests that candidate Jane Corwin’s many mistakes and the presence of Independent Jack Davis masquerading as a Tea Party candidate might have been the bigger factors – but the Democrats won with this strategy, so they feel the approach warrants further usage.

Why, then, the test on Bass since these groups aren’t yet dishing out attacks against any other member? Of all the 2010 Republican victories, Rep. Bass regaining the seat he lost after six terms in 2006 was one of the most tenuous. Winning by just one point (48-47 percent), a margin of 3,550 votes over lobbyist Ann McLane Kuster (D), Mr. Bass could be the top 2012 Democratic conversion target. His inclusion on the National Republican Congressional Committee Patriot Program list, announced last week, is a further indication that both parties see him as a highly vulnerable incumbent.

The 2nd district covers New Hampshire’s western region and encompasses the state’s second largest city of Nashua along with Concord, the state capital. The district voted Democratic during the last decade. President Obama scored 56 percent here in 2008. Former President George W. Bush lost the seat in both of his elections. He trailed 47-52 percent in 2004 and 47-48 percent in 2000. In contrast, the state’s other CD, NH-1, gave Obama only a 53-47% win in 2008 while Bush carried the district both times.

As mentioned above, Bass first won his seat in 1994, but was defeated by ex-Rep. Paul Hodes (D) in 2006. Hodes won an easy 56-41 percent re-election in 2008. He then left the House for an unsuccessful 2010 Senate run, losing to freshman Kelly Ayotte (R) by a substantial 37-60 percent count.

As one can see, the district voting patterns became more Democratic as the decade progressed with the exception of 2010 when the whole state decidedly snapped back to the GOP. Will NH-2 continue to cast future votes more like liberal Vermont, which it borders, than generally conservative New Hampshire? The next election will provide the answer.

Rep. Bass, never known as a strong campaigner, has his work cut out for him. What might have been a major factor in his favor, redistricting, did not materialize. The state’s two congressional districts are only 254 people out of balance, so the 2011 New Hampshire map will be virtually identical to the present boundaries. An influx of new Republicans are likely needed for Bass and the GOP to hold this seat, but it’s clear such won’t happen.

For her part, 2010 nominee Kuster, who raised $2.5 million to Bass’ $1.2 million, is already running again. She should be a stronger candidate in 2012 because the Granite State presidential turnout model will likely be more Democratic than it was during the last election and she won’t have to fend off a tough September intra-party opponent as was the case in 2010.

Totaling all of the relevant factors suggest that Charlie Bass’ 2nd district may be the Democrats’ best national opportunity to defeat a House Republican incumbent. Though there is undeniably a long way to go before Election Day 2012, expect this race never to leave the toss-up category.
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