At 32 years old, Republican Andrew Hemingway would be the youngest governor in the history of New Hampshire.
That, coupled with his being known primarily as a political activist, makes his candidacy a bit of a long shot. But Hemingway is banking on his traditional conservative values coupled with his tech savvy.
Sitting comfortably at the head of the BAE boardroom in Nashua during a campaign stop, Hemingway tells the employees in the room a fact he often likes to share. The clean-cut millennial says it demonstrates how out of balance New Hampshire regulations are. An EMT needs 30 hours of training to be certified, he says. But a hairdresser?
“One thousand hours! Think about that. Is that…I mean my wife may argue that a hairstyle is life or death [others laugh] and I can appreciate that, I’ve had some bad hair cuts in my day…”
BAE Systems is, for Hemingway, enemy territory. His opponent Walt Havenstein spent nearly a decade as CEO of the defense contracting company. And when the elephant in the room is addressed and someone asks Hemingway why they would vote for him over Havenstein, Hemingway takes it in stride. He’s a native to the state and worked in state politics, Hemingway says, but mostly, he’s an entrepreneur.
“I myself have started and built businesses here in the state and so I understand the small business owner, which is 90% of New Hampshire’s economy. It is the voice that needs to be represented in Concord and right now doesn’t have that opportunity.”
Hemingway’s resume includes launching a window-washing company, an insurance company, a digital consulting company, and even a company that produces online coach-training videos. His most recent venture is a website that streamlines digital campaign donations.
He used his digital expertise to stage the first presidential twitter debate in 2011. And this year, Hemingway’s held digital town halls, or AMAs, on Reddit and he’s created a way to contribute to his campaign with the digital currency bitcoin, a first in electoral politics. If elected he says he’ll take it a step further by allowing the state to accept bitcoins as payment for taxes and fees. These things have impressed young, libertarian types like Christopher David.
“He is definitely part of a new generation of leadership that I feel America needs. He’s not your kind of hand-picked-by-the-establishment guy, and that’s important to me.”
But the question is how much twenty-something free-staters will factor into the election. UNH Professor of Political Science Dante Scala says while Hemingway is popular with the young, tech-savvy and liberty-inclined, this group is still small. It’s his conservative credentials, Scala says, that may make the difference.
“You know, there are politicians who pretend to be Tea Party but are really no more than sympathetic to them, and there are people who are more authentic Tea Party and I believe that Hemingway is one of the latter.”
Hemingway’s only elected office was serving on the Bristol budget committee which he later chaired. Hemingway is also the former chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus and has a history of ruffling the feathers of the GOP establishment. In 2012, he led a protest against presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Later that year, he failed in his bid to run the state GOP.
Still, his anti-abortion stance may appeal more to a primary voter than Havenstein’s more moderate positions on social issues.
There’s still one major issue: money. Hemingway’s sold most of his companies, but he’s still not made of the same cash as Walt Havenstein, who deposited nearly $1.5 million of his own money into his campaign. Hemingway has only raised about five percent of what Havenstein has in his coffers. But Scala says Hemingway does have one thing his opponent doesn’t have.
“Hemingway, unlike Havenstein, has a clear, conservative message. And if that was all that was required, I’d be sitting here saying Hemingway has the advantage.”
Scala says Hemingway is an insurgent candidate but with just as little momentum as his opponent. Nevertheless, Scala says if Hemingway can perform well enough in this week’s televised debate to impress enough voters, he may yet tip the scales in his favor.
A win against Maggie Hassan seems unlikely for either Republican candidate. A first term governor in New Hampshire is almost never unseated and polls show Hassan has strong favorability.
The problem for Hemingway, at least among Republican elites, is a fear that his victory in the primary could mean a weaker showing in the general election down ticket.
Sitting at a barstool in a Merrimack nano-brewery, Hemingway talks with its owner.
“So this is an example I use everywhere that I go because people are like ‘what does regulation have to do with businesses?’ and I’m like, ‘well, you see all the nano and micro-breweries in the state we have now? It’s because just a few years ago we rolled back regulation.’”
Hemingway, ever the idea man, says he wants companies to be able to generate their own electricity and wants craft brewers to be able to expand their market to other parts of the state with consignment shops.
When the owner of the brewery, who happens to be a millennial himself, told Hemingway he’s already hiring employees faster than they expected to, Hemingway says one word: “Sweet.”