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"Live Free Or Die" Ethos Present In N.H. Politics


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

The latest national polls show the presidential race tightening in some of the all-important battleground states, with Republican Mitt Romney gaining on President Barack Obama's lead. We've been talking with political reporters in these swing states and this morning, we focus on New Hampshire. President Obama won the state back in 2008 with 54 percent of the vote to John McCain's 45 percent. The state's four electoral votes could be crucial this year.

Andrew Cline is the editorial page editor of the Union Leader newspaper. He joins us from his office in Manchester. Welcome to the program.

ANDREW CLINE: Thank you.

MARTIN: So, Andrew, if you travel to New Hampshire, you see all the license plates imprinted with the motto: Live Free or Die. But you say this is more than a pithy slogan. This sentiment really does come into play during election season. How so?

CLINE: Well, the funny thing about New Hampshire is, its motto is a slogan you can actually live by, if you choose to do so. And a lot of people in New Hampshire for a long time have taken it very seriously. And when elections come around, people actually use the slogan...


CLINE: ...when they campaign. And they campaign on limited government, on lower taxes, and it can be an effective slogan. And it's a motto that a lot of people in this state, particularly people who live here a long time, try to abide by more or less.

MARTIN: So there's a strong libertarian bent, you could say. How does social issues fit into election-year politics?

CLINE: Republicans have tried to downplay social issues for a long time in New Hampshire, depending on the race. When those social issues were things like abortion which, you know, even a lot of registered Republicans in New Hampshire are pro-choice. And in other years, Republicans will play it up depending on what the issue is; for example, gay marriage. If they think that's going to give them an advantage, they'll play it up.

Democrats do the same thing. They will completely downplay, not mention, try to run away from social issues in years in which it comes across as a loser for them. They did that in the beginning on same-sex marriage. When the Republicans try to bring that up a few years ago, Democrats said, No, no, no, that's not what we are running on. We're running only on the economy. And lo and behold, they got elected in passed same-sex marriage.

And now, Republicans are running on the economy, the economy, the economy. And Democrats are scrambling to the microphones to mention social issues every chance they can possibly get. Maggie Hassan, the Democratic candidate for governor, brings it up in every debate, in every press conference, and every stump speech because perceives it as a winner.

So, it's just fun to see how it works back and forth, between which party perceives it as an advantage in which election-year.

MARTIN: So how does all this translates to the presidential race? Which way is the wind blowing in New Hampshire? I mean, Mitt Romney is a known quantity to people in New Hampshire. He served as governor of neighboring Massachusetts. How is the horserace stacking up in New Hampshire right now?

CLINE: It's still very close. Now, the latest poll we had was a University of New Hampshire poll that showed Obama up by 15 points. And I'd say it's a lot closer than that. Both campaigns are trying to gather those few remaining swing voters their side to some extent. But for the most part, they're both going for turn out.

That's what you saw, I think, with Hillary Clinton beating Obama in the primaries, which was unexpected by a lot of people because the polls had Obama way up. So you may see something similar to that. You may not, but it's still a month to go in New Hampshire, as a famously late-deciding state.

MARTIN: So even if it is just about turnouts in New Hampshire, did anything that happened in this past week's debate change things?

CLINE: People I talked to before Wednesday, they were kind of excited to vote against Obama. But they weren't really excited about voting for Romney. After Wednesday's debate...


CLINE: ...people were pretty excited about voting for Romney. That is, Republicans who are not going to vote for Obama anyway we're stoked. I mean, I actually got that word from...


CLINE: ...few people. Now, whether he can continue that momentum is totally up to him and his performance over the next few weeks. But it might have been a turning point.

MARTIN: Andrew Cline is the editorial page editor of the Union Leader newspaper in Manchester, New Hampshire. Andrew, thanks so much for talking with us.

CLINE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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