State of Democracy

NHPR's reporting initiative focused on the impact of politics and public policy on the residents of New Hampshire and beyond. Learn more here.

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Coming on the heels of last year's prolonged budget fight, with negotiations stretching months longer than usual, the 2016 session of the New Hampshire Legislature can't help but seem a bit sleepier. But, in fact, it was a busy few months for lawmakers.

Things kicked off early, actually, with a special session in November to address the state's opioid crisis. Lawmakers eventually worked through more than 1,000 bills, wrapping things up late last month. 

Natasha Haverty

Senator Kelly Ayotte is in the middle of a competitive reelection bid this year.  In her six years in Washington she's quickly risen from the ranks of rookie politician to the national spotlight. But enough with that for the moment. We sent NHPR's State of Democracy reporter Natasha Haverty off the campaign trail, to see what Ayotte's daily working life is like on Capitol Hill. She sends this report.


In the wake of last week's mass shooting in Orlando, the debate over guns and how to keep them away from potential terrorists has been center stage in the U.S. Senate.  And so has New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte.

A bill she helped draft Monday aims to bar suspected terrorists from buying guns, and the issue of gun control is looking to be key to her re-election effort this year. But Ayotte’s involvement with gun policy and politics extends farther back that her six years in the U.S Senate.

Ollie Atkins / Richard Nixon Presidential Library

When politicians talk about drug abuse, ‘tough on crime’ is a phrase that seems to be going out of style as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that the "War on Drugs" didn’t solve the problem.

AP

Ronald Reagan clobbered Jimmy Carter in the 1980 New Hampshire presidential election. Four years later, he did the same to Walter Mondale. So resounding were those thumpings, Carter won just two towns in the state, Mondale five. 

Republican supremacy in the state did not start with Reagan, nor did it end with him. But Reagan’s two victories may represent the GOP high-water mark in New Hampshire presidential contests. The question now is: Has Republican support in the state bottomed out, or could it continue to fall in 2016? And what might Donald Trump, this year's unconventional GOP nominee, mean for this trend?

http://laconiasafeschools.weebly.com/

This week NHPR has been reporting on how New Hampshire schools are fundamentally rethinking the role they play in the lives of their students and in their communities. Reeling from the state’s heroin crisis, the aftermath of the recession, and struggling local economies, many schools are taking on a mountain of new responsibilities beyond the classroom, often with limited help from the state.

Casey McDermott, NHPR

When David Griffin started teaching middle school in Berlin more than three decades ago, he thought he knew what to expect. He never imagined that stocking a food pantry might be part of the job.

Sure, Griffin says, he always anticipated a few needy kids in each class. But in the past few years, especially, the number of students who need help — and the complexity of their needs — seems greater than ever.

Spend any time around Sen. Kelly Ayotte or Gov. Maggie Hassan nowadays, and you'll hear repeated assurances that while it may be election season, they remain wholly dedicated to serving New Hampshire.

But take a look at either’s fundraising books in their race for the U.S. Senate, and you'll find plenty of proof that both are also focusing further afield.


Sara Plourde / NHPR

The classic gerrymandered map you learned about in high school civics class is full of oddly-shaped legislative districts, drawn with obvious intent to boost one party.

But in New Hampshire, that’s rarely the case: It’s very hard to see, just by looking at the election maps, which districts might help or hurt a certain party’s chances.

So has gerrymandering been a factor in the state’s politics? And if so, how much?

Digitization supported by the Cogswell Benevolent Trust. / Image obtained via the New Hampshire Historical Society

Here’s a confusing reality about New Hampshire politics today:

Democrats are having success like never before, scoring wins that would have been unimaginable just two decades ago.

But despite that shift, there’s one place where Republicans still have a leg up on Election Day: the state Legislature.

Healthnewsnet / Flickr Creative Commons

In New Hampshire, there’s about a 5-year gap between the life expectancy for adult women at the top of the income bracket and those at the bottom. For men in the same age group, the gap’s more than nine years wide.

That's according to new data released by The Health Inequality Project, which takes a sweeping look at the relationship between income and mortality across the country.

Sara Plourde for NHPR

The question of whether to continue New Hampshire's expanded Medicaid program has been one of the top State House policy debates this year.

But it's something local governments are mulling over as well. In City Halls across the state, officials say the program has led to some significant savings: in the slice of taxpayers’ money set aside for medical and prescription aid, and indirect savings in other areas.

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

As a former lobbyist for the New Hampshire banking industry, Jerry Little had little trouble raising money for his 2014 campaign for state Senate.

 

Of the more than $100,000 in contributions Little collected, more than a third came from donors with ties to the financial sector. Little, a Republican, went on to win his race by a comfortable margin.

 

Allegra Boverman / NHPR

Conventional wisdom holds that Bernie Sanders' and Donald Trump's big wins in New Hampshire’s presidential primary earlier this month were driven by hordes of irregular and first-time voters flocking to the polls.

But a review of preliminary voting data doesn’t exactly back up that premise.

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Here's a twist in an election year in which the role of money is a dominant theme: A Super PAC created to blunt the influence of Super PACs in key political races is jumping into the Senate contest between Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Gov. Maggie Hassan.

With the 2016 presidential campaign now entrenched in Nevada and South Carolina, local television stations are closing the books on the New Hampshire Primary.

Sara Plourde/NHPR

One of the more closely-watched Senate contests of 2016 won’t be bound by a so-called people’s pledge after all.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the Republican incumbent, and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan have failed to reach an agreement to limit the influence of outside political groups in the race.

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

For months after announcing his White House bid, Bernie Sanders didn’t run a single campaign commercial on television. But he was everywhere online: emails, social media posts and paid ads on desktop computers and mobile devices.

Sanders has spent $10 million building a presence on the Internet, more than anyone else running for president this year. While the Vermont senator has hardly turned his back on TV, he’s betting that the voters most likely to embrace his vision for the country are online, not in front of a 50” flat-screen.

If you want to know whether Hillary Clinton will stay close to Bernie Sanders Tuesday, or are looking for an early hint of how the Republican race will end up, here's a tip: Keep an eye on Rochester.

Listen Again: Deconstructing Rubio's Talking Points

Feb 7, 2016
Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Marco Rubio got hit hard in Saturday's GOP debate, when Chris Christie accused the Florida senator of sticking to the same rehearsed lines over and over again. And for those few minutes, Rubio seemed unable to break script in the face of the attack.

To be fair, Rubio is certainly a candidate who's loyal to his stump speech. On his visits around New Hampshire, Rubio has essentially stuck to a trusty formula at town halls and rallies. So let's look at speech, and Rubio's classic talking points. Scroll through to read a brief breakdown, and listen to clips.

Latino voters are expected to turn out in record numbers across the country this election year. For many, learning the basics of how to vote is the first step.


Allegra Boverman / NHPR

Jason Kirkwood, a machinist born and raised in Rochester, came to a Bernie Sanders campaign rally after work on Thursday.

While he’s has come across plenty of Clinton fans here in his hometown, “I think there’s a lot of Bernie supporters. I think it’s kind of divided,” he said, “I think there’s a lot of Hillary supporters but I personally don’t like her because I truly think she’s a pawn in the game to the corporate leaders.”

The Four Aces Diner on Lebanon's Bridge Street is a real old fashioned diner car: leather booths and linoleum counter, a blackboard of specials. But on this particular morning, the folks inside— not so up for talking politics.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

At seven in the morning the day after the Iowa caucus, Breakfast at Laney's in Somersworth is pretty quiet. The 6 AM crowd has moved out and the 9:30 "rush" is still rolling out of bed.

As a campaign stop, the diner has been similarly quiet: Only four candidates have visited Somersworth this election season -- Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Martin O'Malley -- and none have dropped by since November. 


Donald Trump likes to point out that, unlike everyone else running for president in 2016, he’s got the money to pay his own way to the Republican nomination.

Natasha Haverty / NHPR

Primary elections have a tendency to push candidates to the political extreme—fire up the base and draw bright lines around the issues. But during the New Hampshire presidential primary, where political independents play a central role those tactics often mean the campaign rhetoric sometimes doesn’t line up with how voters actually think.

Here are a few voters feeling that disconnect on one issue: guns.


AP/John Minchillo

In the final week of the New Hampshire presidential primary, NHPR is taking a closer listen to how some of the candidates are pitching themselves to the state's voters – through their standard stump speech. We've taken a few key moments in a recent speech and marked up the sound in each clip - just click listen to see them roll out. 

Here's an annotated recording of a recent speech by Democrat Bernie Sanders, delivered January 14, 2016 at Dartmouth's Spaulding Auditorium. (You can hear the full speech using the player at the bottom of this story.)

Allegra Boverman / NHPR

John Kasich needs New Hampshire’s undeclared voters to surge to the Republican primary. Bernie Sanders would like to see those same voters pick the Democratic race.

Recent history shows either scenario is plausible.

But ongoing upheaval in the ranks of New Hampshire’s undeclared (or “independent”) voters makes it hard to know what (if any) direction they're moving over the long term. 

Allegra Boverman / NHPR

Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign has a challenge ahead of it before Primary Day.

The Vermont senator gets some of his strongest support in New Hampshire from independents. But those same voters could, at the last minute, decide to cast a ballot in the Republican primary.

Sara Plourde for NHPR

Discussions over the future of New Hampshire’s Medicaid expansion kick off in earnest this week, setting the stage for one of the biggest policy debates before state lawmakers this year.

The question of whether to reauthorize the expansion, known officially as the New Hampshire Health Protection Program, has loomed over the State House for much of the last year.

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