Unbeknownst to you, New Hampshire is much more eccentric.
It plays a significant role in American politics for many reasons than just the fact that it hosts the first presidential primary. Or that it seems like everyone in the state is a public servant. After the US House and the UK House of Commons, its state House of Representatives, which has 400 members, is the largest elected body in the English-speaking world.
The formerly staunchly Republican region has evolved into one of the most closely contested swing states of the twenty-first century. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the 1.3 million-person state by 2,736 votes, while Democrat Maggie Hassan defeated Republican incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte by 1,017 votes.
The fourth-most white state in the union, however, has not experienced a rise in the number of voters of color over the previous 50 years, unlike other states that have slowly transitioned from red to purple. Even the recent arrivals from Massachusetts who are speeding up Interstate 93 are not exactly Democrats; they left for a state without an income or sales tax for a reason. Additionally, there hasn’t been a significant urbanization. Manchester, the largest city in the state, is a historic mill town without the urban culture of cities like Boston or even Des Moines.
The state has a strong libertarian strain running through it and is extremely financially conservative; adopting an income tax is only marginally less politically poisonous than endorsing Putin. It is also one of the most educated states in the country amid an era of political polarization along educational lines, with voters with college degrees flocking to Democrats and those without them largely leaning toward the GOP. Additionally, it is one of the least religious states in a nation where white voters’ church attendance is a significant predictor of their partisanship.
Ross Berry, a longtime Republican operator and currently serving state representative, told Vox that “it is an older, primarily white, extremely rural state, but you have all these college-educated individuals who are irreligious, and [these elements] are in contradiction with themselves.”
However, these nationwide themes come together in peculiar ways in a state as unique as New Hampshire. The Granite State is old and white, comparable to GOP-trending states like Iowa and Ohio; but, it is highly educated, similar to Democrat-trending states like Colorado and Virginia. The outcomes of these cross currents might determine control of the Senate and the make-up of the House majority in Washington for the upcoming two years due to a crucial Senate race and two closely contested House elections.
This year, the Senate race in New Hampshire has drawn the most attention. Republican Don Bolduc, a former brigadier general in the US Army, is challenging incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan. Bolduc, who has erroneously claimed that Trump won the 2020 election and advocated a number of conspiracy theories concerning Covid-19, barely defeated state Senate President Chuck Morse in the September primary. National Democrats sponsored attack commercials against Morse in the primary, hoping Bolduc would win and make it easier for Hassan to defeat him, while national Republicans spent extensively to support Morse.
In a competitive midterm election environment, New Hampshire will always be a factor. But because the primary on September 13 was the nation’s latest and because of Bolduc’s extreme views and the little time left for his campaign, the Republican is now clearly the underdog.
In the state’s most important House election, two-term incumbent Chris Pappas is facing off against Republican challenger Karoline Leavitt in a contest that is significantly more competitive and may offer greater insight into the political landscape in the Granite State. Pappas, a typical swing-seat Democrat who first won his seat in the 2018 midterm elections, has maintained a low national profile. Leavitt, a former junior staff member in the Trump administration, on the other hand, routinely made appearances on conservative media and asserted that Trump won the 2020 election.
Perhaps the epitome of a swing district is the First District. Obama and George W. Bush both won it twice, while Trump narrowly prevailed in 2016 before Biden defeated him in 2020. Democratic Carol Shea-Porter and Republican Frank Guinta alternated controlling the district’s congressional seat for the majority of the previous ten years.
Pappas won the seat in 2018 and defeated seasoned Republican operative Matt Mowers in a close race in 2020. Mowers lost his 2022 primary because he was viewed as being too moderate despite having worked for both Trump’s campaign and government. Leavitt, a 25-year-old who worked for Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) after Trump left office, criticized Mowers’s conservatism since he had ties to the Trump administration’s coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx and the presidential campaign of former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Leavitt would be the youngest woman in Congress in US history by almost four years if she were elected. She ran a red-meat MAGA campaign in her primary, appealing to the supporters who gave Trump his first primary victory in 2016, but she only prevailed thanks to a third, moderate candidate who helped divide the vote. According to one well-connected New Hampshire Republican, “some of the Republican primary electorate in New Hampshire thinks they reside in Alabama, and when you split the vote,” candidates like Leavitt win.
National forecasts have given the general election contest between Pappas and Leavitt a toss-up rating.
Leavitt’s campaign featured national celebrities like Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Lauren Boebert, and she also appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program. She organized a news conference outside a high school in Manchester on a chilly day in late September to protest the local judge’s ruling upholding the rule that teachers may not inform parents if their child was identifying as transgender in school. It was a well-rehearsed performance in front of a throng holding placards that said “Parents above Politicians” and “Moms for Karoline.”
However, it had the air of a national political event that could have occurred anywhere. Leavitt comes across as a polished businessman. While she beat the drum on an issue that resonates with the conservative, Fox News-watching base but may not necessarily be top of mind with the swing voters who decide New Hampshire elections, she fielded questions from local reporters and greeted attendees with a demeanor that belied her level of experience.
The following week, Pappas, her rival, attended a neighborhood gathering in South Manchester with a small group of supporters and mixed with them while reminiscing about past interactions. Before being chosen for Congress in 2018, Pappas served for more than 10 years in local and state government positions. His family operates a popular neighborhood restaurant known for its chicken tenders.
He claimed that the GOP’s turn to the right and support of Trump had benefited Democrats in the Granite State. Despite the state’s historical Republican leanings, Warren Rudman and Judd Gregg were frequently elected. Sen. Bob Smith, who was elected to the Senate twice and represents the far right, was defeated in the 2002 primary by John E. Sununu.
“I think the Republican Party in this country has undergone significant upheaval. If you look at New Hampshire’s history, you’ll see that the Republican Party has historically supported abortion rights. No longer, at least not in terms of the candidates you see in New Hampshire,” Pappas said. We now have the chance, in my opinion, to win over independents and Republicans who believe that their party has shifted too far to the right on crucial domestic matters as well as a basic issue like reproductive rights.
With television commercials on abortion and the economy, candidates are emphasizing on these themes in the general election. Even Leavitt chose to focus on inflation in her first post-primary campaign commercial rather than providing more red meat for her conservative audience.
Both party operatives believe that Republicans will eventually reclaim control of New Hampshire’s Second District, where incumbent Democrat Annie Kuster is running against Republican Bob Burns, but they are doubtful that they will be able to do it in 2022. The district, which according to Cook Political Report is “leaning Democratic,” is made up of the Vermont border’s tie-dyed liberals as well as the North Country’s blue-collar residents and the state capital of Concord.
Burns could be competitive if the political climate in the country worsens for Democrats, but he only managed to win the Republican primary thanks to support from outside Democratic groups who viewed him as a poor candidate. Additionally, because of the limited time since New Hampshire’s late primary, he has not had a lot of support from the general public and has had little opportunity to gather funds.
Republicans across the board stand to gain if fuel prices continue to rise: The fact that New Hampshire is more severely impacted by gas costs than other states is another oddity of the state. Granite Staters don’t drive more or less than other Americans, but for a variety of logistical reasons, they are disproportionately inclined to use home heating oil in a state where energy costs are already high. According to Berry, a Republican state lawmaker, Democrats will experience greater cold in the voting booth in November the colder the temperature is in October.
As a staunchly New England holdout where the accents are still louder than the coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts and Yankee thriftiness is still regarded as one of the finest types of virtue, New Hampshire has long maintained its image. In addition, voters in this state continue to demand and receive an extraordinarily high level of political engagement.
The quadrennial primary, which historically comes after Iowa as the second presidential nominating battle and forces prominent national personalities to cautiously woo the voters here, is not the only reason for that anticipation. It is fueled by the staggering number of elective positions up for grabs in the state, including state lawmakers who serve average constituencies of 3,300. Additionally, every two years, all state positions are up for election, increasing the amount of political outreach that each voter receives.
Ray Buckley, the state Democratic Party’s longstanding head, remarked, “We’re always in election mode.” “With the four-year terms, we don’t have the downtime like some other states.”
In contrast to other states, there is no patronage system or good pay associated with serving in the state legislature. Legislators are paid $100 year for a session that occasionally seems endless.
Ticket splitting is a real occurrence in the political culture that results from the perpetual churn of politics. Chris Sununu, the incumbent Republican governor of New Hampshire, is overwhelmingly expected to be reelected for a third term, but the congressional contests are close or even leaning Democratic. In formerly Republican strongholds like the lush, wealthy suburban town of Bedford, which has shifted decisively to Democrats in recent years, the Trump-skeptical Republican is anticipated to perform well. Even in 2020, one of the most bitterly divided years in American history, incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Sununu outperformed their party’s front-runners for president by a wide margin. (In a state where Biden won by 7 percent, Sununu won by 30 percent and Shaheen by 15 percent.)
Second-generation politician from New Hampshire Sununu argued to reporters that retail politics still has the power to make or break politicians among Granite State voters who expect to meet their candidates up close.
He predicted that in 2024, “on both sides, you’ll have all these fools coming from across the country, who spend a lot of money, with big name ID. All of that is meaningless in the end. You must visit individuals one by one in their homes. He pointed out that Biden fell short of his goal in the New Hampshire 2020 presidential primary, where he came in fifth. He didn’t interact with anyone locally. He was fined for keeping his distance. We also made an effort to inform the rest of the nation that they were choosing an idiot as president. Nobody listened,” remarked Sununu, who has occasionally been a loud opponent of Trump.
But he summed up politics and people in New Hampshire by saying, “You have to earn it here, person to person. We stand out from the crowd and are superior in every way.
Even New Hampshire serves as an example of broader national trends in an era of heightened political uniformity. One of the most obvious illustrations of how educational polarization in American politics has affected it is the change from red to purple. Additionally, Granite Staters naturally obtain their knowledge from many of the same sources as everyone else due to the nationalized media landscape. Even though the state’s only local television affiliate, WMUR, still has disproportionate sway with voters, the days when the right-wing editorial line of the then-Manchester Union Leader distorted the state’s politics are long gone.
But above all, it is still peculiar: Since each town in the state has its unique quirks, political operatives can wax poetic about the differences between the two nearby towns of Derry and Londonderry. It’s also one of the few places where opposing vaccine mandates is associated with favoring abortion rights and where a libertarian homesteading project is still actively influencing politics.
In other ways, the national trends simply serve to highlight New Hampshire’s unique traits. As a historically Republican state whose voters have an aversion to both paying taxes and going to church, the United States’ growing educational divide highlights how unusual it is. These special characteristics won’t disappear any time soon. Instead, it simply implies that the Granite State has already become purple as a result of the ongoing national political realignment. What remains to be seen is how far it will advance.