N.H. Democrats Attribute Losses To Redistricting, Disenchanted Voters

Nov 30, 2016

Democrats are doing some soul searching after this election season – not only because of their loss in the Presidential race but because they lost several governorships, including in New Hampshire, capping several years of state-level losses nationwide.

I think that’s a big reason why President-elect Trump won is because people are so despondent about government’s seeming inability to get things done that they throw their arms up and decide to go in a very different direction from what we’ve traditionally done.  -- Steve Marchand, former Democratic candidate for Governor. 

N.H. Democrats can claim some bright spots – with Maggie Hassan’s win over Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte in the U.S. Senate race, Carol Shea-Porter’s win over Frank Guinta in Congressional District 1, and incumbent Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster’s  defeat of Jim Lawrence (although by an unexpectedly tight margin).  

Further down the ticket, however, was another matter.

In the Governor’s race, Republican Chris Sununu defeated Democrat Colin Van Ostern, and the GOP held onto both the House and the Senate.

Democrats point to winning ten seats in the House, a modest gain, although it gave them the largest minority ever – at 174 members.  High hopes for gaining a Senate majority came to naught.

On The Exchange this week, Democrats placed much of the blame on redistricting.

State Senator Donna Soucy said the 2010 GOP sweep in both the House and Senate gave Republicans the opportunity to redraw district lines in their favor.

“That continues to be an issue, the way some of those districts are drawn. They’re drawn to provide an advantage to Republicans,” Soucy said. “But despite that we definitely had excellent candidates this time around and were very competitive.”

Steve Marchand, former candidate for Governor and mayor of Portsmouth, said other states have benefited from a nonpartisan approach to districting.

“It all depends on your priorities. If your priority is to maximize the number of competitive districts, which is a very worthy goal, then having a nonpartisan panel that does it in a very public way…Iowa is held up as one of the very best in the country. And it is not coincidental that they have some of the best Congressional districts in the country, have a narrowly divided Statehouse and Senate for many years. That is a result of a lot of people saying, ‘Hey, my vote matters at the Statehouse level.’ “

To Embrace -- Or Not To Embrace -- The Bernie Sanders Wing?

“I do think Senator Sanders was able to make a significant mark and contribution to the party and to our candidates in our party platform on really pushing hard on some of those economic issues,” Soucy said. “Although Hillary Clinton was talking about them, I think Bernie was talking about them in greater detail and a little more often.”   

But State Senator Bette Lasky warned that the key to success in New Hampshire has been the more moderate approach as established by such political luminaries as former Governor and U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen.  “Candidates running in New Hampshire really have to have that moderate streak to be successful,” she said.

Exchange listener Mike begged to differ: “Democrats need to take a more liberal stance. I voted Democratic down the ballot but didn’t like any of the candidates.”

Marchand, who voted for Sanders in the primary, said Democrats need to make a bold case for government.

“I cannot say this enough: One lesson of 2016 to me is that folks don’t believe government can do things well. We have to bend over backwards if we want govt. to play a meaningful role – to show it, do the math, and do it every day."

Lasky insisted that Democrats in New Hampshire are actually very socially liberal.  “We tried to repeal the death penalty. We’re clearly for family leave. Same-sex marriage -- that was a democratic initiative. I think that maybe we need to make our message stronger to young people and people who think that we are moderate leaning to conservative, even. “

Exchange listener Joey said Democrats have lost touch with the working class, which contributed to their losses.

“I agree with him,” said Lasky. “But the Democratic party has always been the party of the working class. And this election, it flipped. I saw union people vote for Trump -- things that had not happened before. So we have to make our message stronger. I’m waiting to see if President-elect Trump will do the things for all these people that do think he’s going to create jobs, etc."

Local Races: Low Profile, Big Impact.  

“It’s your state senators and state reps and local government that affect you more than any of the national candidates on a day-to-day basis,” Lasky said. “So people need to pay more attention to their reps, and I think over the years that has happened. But it’s a continual fight.”

Pondering  The Talent Pipeline

“I like to see if someone served as a mayor, or an alderman or a county treasurer. I think that’s really important to get that experience to be able to go and serve in office,” said Gene Martin, Treasurer for the N.H. Young Democrats.  

“People who serve on more local boards, it’s a different experience to be able to come and solve problems. On your local aldermanic board, it’s not a partisan issue. It’s --'How do we fix these potholes, how do we fund this, how do we add more cops on the beat?’”

My training as a planning board member and chair served me better to serve in the Statehouse than anything I’d done. I had to bring sides together.  I had to reach a consensus and hopefully have everyone go home relatively happy. So, to me, it was such a great training ground. -- Senator Bette Lasky.

The 2018 Mid-terms Beckon

With no Presidential or U.S. Senate race in 2018, Soucy said, the governor’s race will be front and center.

Conventional wisdom suggests that midterm elections do not draw big Democratic turnout because young and minority voters are more likely to turn out in Presidential years.

Marchand suggested that either way Democrats have a lot of work to do.

“Democrats need to be sure to articulate what we are for rather than simply trying to disqualify Republicans for office.  And the more specific you get, the more aspirational you get, and the more you focus on credibility of the power of government to do good things that improve people’s lives -- but be highly credible in the way you do it -- that’s going to build the confidence that is lacking.”