In New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District, Democratic incumbent Ann McLane Kuster and Republican Steve Negron are busy making their final cases to voters.
Tomorrow, we’ll hear a story about how Congresswoman Kuster is navigating the political waters as an incumbent Democrat this midterm. Today, NHPR reporter Jason Moon joins me to talk about her Republican opponent Steve Negron.
So we’ve had Mr. Negron on air a number of times this campaign season, and I think by and large we can say he is a pretty conventional GOP candidate when it comes to his policy positions – pro small government, socially conservative, supportive of the president. But you’ve spent some time with him on the campaign trail -- how is he trying to stand out to voters?
Well that really is the challenge for him – making himself stand out. Right now polls show that many voters don’t seem to know a lot about Steve Negron. A poll from Saint Anselm College shows 70 percent of voters in the district have no opinion of him.
So that’s the hill he has to climb – and it’s especially steep because he’s facing an incumbent who has been in office six years. So far, rather than focusing on big policy ideas or attacking his opponent, Negron has been focusing on his biography. When I spoke with last week he laid out the key parts of that biography that he is focusing on.
Negron: “I come from a different perspective. And I really think I come and it causes the other party a little a bit of angst. I am Hispanic, as a minority, I am a veteran, I am a small business owner. I’ve been very involved in my community. So I’m just the guy on the street.”
So that’s really the Steve Negron pitch in a nutshell there. And he mentions the two aspects of his biography that he’s been stressing the most: his Hispanic roots and his military service.
Yeah I’ve heard him talk about both of those before.
Let’s start with his Hispanic heritage. Negron often leads with that fact -- literally leads with it. He gave opening statements in Spanish here at the NHPR forum and also at another forum sponsored by the AARP.
“And I’d just like to say, in Spanish if I may, (in Spanish): to all the older folks who are listening, I will always fight for your benefits.”
Negron’s grandfather was from Mexico, his grandmother was from Puerto Rico, and Negron even spent a good chunk of his childhood, from ages 10-17, growing up in Spain. He told me a story about growing up in Spain during the time that the dictator Francisco Franco was still in power.
“I was with my grandmother, and a young man stole some oranges from the little local plaza in the town we were living in and Franco had a state police called the Guardia Civil, and they just lifted up a cape and right there as he was running across the thing they killed him. Just shot him dead. You know, I’m asking my grandmother, ‘why does that happen?’ and she says ‘because people don’t have freedoms, is why.’”
And so all of this is really important part of Negron’s pitch to voters. Coming from an immigrant family, being bilingual, and having lived in an authoritarian country – it all gives him a perspective on issues like, say, immigration that his opponent doesn’t have.
So obviously a unique personal story, but when it comes to his positions on immigration they’re fairly standard for a Republican candidate, right?
Yes, I think that’s fair to say. He’ll often talk about there being a right way to come into the country and a wrong way and that enforcing immigration laws are a matter of national security.
Ok, you said the second area he focuses on is his military service. How does he talk about that with voters?
Well he likes to say his family has a combined 109 years of military service, 15 of those years come from his time in the Air Force. He says he spent a lot of that time underground in missile silos, manning the controls to nuclear missiles. And so he’ll often draw on that experience when talking foreign policy.
But he also talks a lot about veterans’ issues. Negron’s campaign held a series of roundtables on veterans’ issues recently. I tagged along to one -- an American Legion Post in Lebanon. Negron was certainly in his element there, swapping stories with other vets, using lots of military references.
Afterwards I spoke with Steven Armstrong, a vet who sat in on the roundtable. He says he left the discussion feeling like Negron gets it.
“It’s good to have people concerned about veterans and him being a veteran himself he has a real good idea of, you know – like he said, how many years his family members have been veterans. You know, you need someone to help stand up for you.”
And for Negron, standing up for vets in terms of policy means providing more options for veterans to access health care outside the VA system. He also says the first piece of legislation he would introduce in Washington would be to create a nationwide ‘green alert’ system, which would be like Amber alerts but for veterans in crisis.
Ok, so Negron has been focusing heavily on his Hispanic roots and his status as a veteran. But -- is it going to work? I mean, it hasn’t gotten him all that much attention so far, right?
Well, who knows, but the polling so far hasn’t been a good sign for him in terms of whether or not this type of messaging is getting through.
And there are a lot of things at play here, including that Negron hasn’t been able to raise much money to help him get his name out there. He’s not running any TV ads, for instance.
But one thing I’ve been curious about is how much Negron’s style of campaigning is factoring into this. Negron is very polite in his messaging. He refers to everyone as ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ -- even the reporters. He doesn’t often go on the attack against Congresswoman Kuster – in fact she recently called Negron a gentleman. Now, in last night’s debate on WMUR Negron was a little more aggressive, but I think that’s an outlier in terms of the overall campaign. And I wonder if that understated style is part of what’s preventing him from getting attention in this political atmosphere, which today seems so dominated by spectacle and over-the-top rhetoric.