On The Political Front: 2016 Senate Race Looms Over State Budget Battle

Jul 13, 2015

Gov. Maggie Hassan and U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte

On The Political Front is our weekly conversation with NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers. This week, a look at what's going on behind the scenes of New Hampshire's state budget battle.  

It’s now been a couple of weeks since Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed the state budget. Very quiet weeks if the measure is true progress towards a budget deal, but very loud ones in terms of the partisan rhetoric about the budget. 

Is it fair to claim the relationship  between New Hampshire’s Democratic governor and the Republican legislative leaders is getting worse rather than better?

Based on the public comment – and most of this is via press release – it would seem so. And how much of this is real, and how much of this is wind, isn’t entirely clear at this point. But the finger pointing, charges and counter changes from both Democrats and Republicans – and much of this is generated by the political parties – is pretty bad. And it does show the extent to which this fight has become so much about 2016. You have Republicans, in the State House, and outside, claiming Hassan’s whole approach to the budget is about her 2016 ambitions, including of course a possible U.S. Senate run against Kelly Ayotte. And then you have Democrats – again the party is really leading the charge on this one -- claiming that Ayotte, or her political folks are helping to drive this fight.

And both political parties have been wielding right-to-know requests to make their cases.

Yes, the GOP sought emails from the governor’s office in an effort to reveal that Hassan or her staff had been in touch with U.S. Senate Minority leader Harry Reid, who its been reported very much wants Hassan to challenge  Kelly Ayotte. The Democratic Party, meanwhile sought emails from legislative leaders. The goal is to prove Kelly Ayotte or her political backers have been in touch during the budget fight. If there was any illusion that the budget impasse would become de-politicized once lawmakers split Concord, think again.

But as you say, most of this is coming from the State Democratic and Republican parties, and not from inside the State House.

Sure, but it doesn’t help, and it underscores the fact that the longer this goes on the harder it will likely be to separate the policy differences between the governor and Republicans from everybody’s 2016 ambitions, and in a presidential year, everybody includes folks in Washington, the backers of both parties and presidential candidates. In the wake of the veto, for instance, I was at a Marco Rubio campaign stop, and Rubio was introduced to a few people in the crowd. They told him they were state senators, and Rubio immediately starting talking to them about how horrible it was their budget had been vetoed. The senators were actually from Massachusetts  -- this event was in Salem – but the point is this fight isn’t taking place in a vacuum, and while everybody involved – the governor, and GOP lawmakers all will say they are standing on principle, etc., this is not a political atmosphere terribly conducive to compromise.  

Speaking of the presidential race, voters here are seeing New Hampshire get plenty of attention.

Yes. Last week was busy. Carly Fiorina was here pretty much the whole time, Martin O’Malley was here. Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Lindsey Grahah, John Kasich, who will also be here Monday. Scott Walker, who’s spent much more time in Iowa,  returns later in the week. Chris Christie, who has been here a bunch, returns, as does Donald Trump.

Now for the Republican voter – even the most dutiful – the size of this field has got to be almost overwhelming.

Yes. For true GOP loyalists, going to all the events you might get invited to is a real burden. I talked to one couple very active in the GOP over the weekend who told me they actually had to reschedule celebrating their wedding anniversary because they were overbooked with politics. One thing I like to I like to ask more casual  GOP voters who show up at these events is if they can even name all the people running; some can, but many can’t. One thing that is interesting, and it may simply be a measure of this field's size is that in every primary you have a candidate or two --- rarely by choice, I might add – who traverses the state and essentially tells voters New Hampshire is where I will make my stand, that New Hampshire is do or die. Sometimes that works out  reasonably well – think John McCain. Other times it doesn’t – think Jon Huntsman. But this year you’ve got as many as a half dozen of these folks in that position. Some of those folks may not last all the way through till next February, but we will be seeing a lot of them in the meantime.