New Hampshire “Gets It” by Jason Sorens

New Hampshire “Gets It”

January 24, 2005

New Hampshire was the only “red” state from 2000 to go “blue” in 2004 (link: http://uselectionatlas.org/USPRESIDENT/), bucking the national trend. What makes this swing all the more interesting is that New Hampshire’s congressional delegation is wholly Republican, and both houses of the state legislature are overwhelmingly Republican. Moreover, these are not Chafee Republicans; their voting records are pretty conservative. To understand Granite State exceptionalism, you must know something about the state’s political culture and history.

New Hampshire has a history of giving the Bush family – and other establishment Republicans – serious problems. In 1992 the state nearly went for maverick challenger Pat Buchanan in the primary, irreparably damaging Bush the Elder’s sense of invincibility. In ’96 the state again bucked the trend, going for Buchanan over Dole. In 2000 John McCain won New Hampshire. In 1992 the town of Dixville Notch, voting at midnight, went for Libertarian Andre Marrou. And so it goes.

Ideologically, New Hampshire is not so much “conservative” in the traditional sense as “independent” or even “libertarian.” Its economy is based around small business, and has been roaring for the past decade; New Hampshire’s per capita income is one of the highest in the country, and the state pays much more to the federal government in taxes than it receives in expenditures (link: http://www.taxfoundation.org/taxingspending.html). Its state and local taxes are the lowest in the nation, apart from oil-dividend Alaska (link: http://www.taxfoundation.org/statelocal04.html). It’s religiously diverse, with the largest denomination, accounting for about a third of the population, being Catholic (http://www.adherents.com/adhloc/Wh_228.html#532). The Religious Right is not terribly strong in New Hampshire. Some say that immigrants from the rest of New England are making New Hampshire more liberal, but this is not so. Massachusetts-born residents of NH are more conservative than native Granite Staters (link: http://www.theunionleader.com/Articles_show.html?article=47045&archive=1).

New Hampshire also has a tradition of favoring “clean government.” This aspect of the state’s heritage damaged libertarian-conservative governor Craig Benson, whose administration suffered from several scandals. Although he was initially very popular and was not personally implicated in scandal, he went down to defeat in 2004 to a conservative Democrat who took a no-income-tax pledge.

All of these aspects of New Hampshire’s political culture worked against Bush the Younger. The administration’s misleading of the American people on the Iraq War, its overbearing Department of Justice, its fiscal profligacy… all of these factors disgusted libertarian members of the Republican coalition and harmed Bush’s re-election chances in New Hampshire. While the rest of the country fell for the Republicans’ new strategy of creating a permanent governing coalition through bigger government payoffs to special interests (defense spending, agriculture subsidies, steel tariffs), only New Hampshire resisted. Like a mother rebuking a disobedient child, New Hampshire rapped the knuckles of the national Republican Party in 2004 by holding its nose and voting for Kerry. It’s doubtful that the Republican Party will listen to little New Hampshire, though, so it’s likely the state will keep going its independent way.

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