On the Election Front: Hassan, Ayotte Senate Race Still Unresolved

Nov 9, 2016

Governor Maggie Hassan at campaign HQ on Election Night
Credit NHPR's Jessica Hunt

Tuesday was quite a night for American politics, and the same goes for New Hampshire, where the U.S. Senate race is still unresolved. NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers joined Morning Edition host Rick Ganley to discuss the latest in the Senate race, and to talk GOP control in the legislature, Governor-elect Chris Sununu and the Democratic wins in the races for U.S. House. 

So, Josh, everyone knew this was a consequential election; polls indicated competitive races, of course, for President, Senate and Governor. But let's start, right now, at the top: Clinton and Trump. 

Here in New Hampshire, the latest results we have is that Donald Trump up by fewer than 400 votes. That number could change, but if Trump wins here, it'll certainly be telling. Democrats have carried five of the past six Presidential elections here in New Hampshire, and Trump was feared to be an anchor by some local Republicans, and he clearly helped the ticket -- whether candidates on the ticket wanted him to or not. I mean, recall a few weeks ago, Kelly Ayotte said she'd support Trump leaving the ticket, and it's also worth noting, for all those people, and I certainly include myself here, who felt the only way Donald Trump could get to 270 votes would be to carry New Hampshire. He may yet, but he got there without that result. Well, that wasn’t the case, was it?

And plenty of Republicans were worried about that loss to Clinton here, but obviously those fears were ill-founded. 

Very much so. Republican strategists I talked to, and these are folks with hand in the statewide races, as well as the state Senate contests, to a one, said Trump was a boon to down ticket Republicans in New Hampshire; in places he did well, other Republicans tended to also. And the voters he seems to have attracted to the polls, based on the results, didn’t appear to do much ticket splitting.

So what’s the latest we know about the Ayotte and Hassan race?

That it remains very tight. Last night both campaigns headed home around 1 a.m., leaving their victory parties saying they were confident that they had enough outstanding uncounted votes to win this thing, but that the race wasn’t going to be decided until the morning, and the latest numbers I have show them in a near tie: 334,056 votes for Senator Ayotte, 332,554 votes for Governor Hassan, so a 1502 vote margin, and that's with some 29,000-odd votes also being split by independent candidate Aaron Day, and a libertarian candidate. So in a close race, outside candidates also played a role. 

Absolutely. Anything particularly telling about where the voters came from?

Well, Kelly Ayotte did well in a lot of the smaller towns, up north, in the GOP communities that surround Manchester as well as those in Rockingham county, that's not surprising. In Nashua, her hometown, which tends to tilt pretty Democratic in Presidential years -- Ayotte kept it pretty competitive. As for Governor Hassan, she got strong support in Democratic areas: Concord, Keene, Hanover, and the Seacoast. She carried a 4,100 vote margin out of Portsmouth, for instance, a 3,000 vote edge out of Dover, and picked up another 2,000 votes over Ayotte out of Exeter, where she, of course, lived for years.

And what about the governor’s race?

Well we do have some more clarity there. Republican Chris Sununu has won, beating fellow executive councilor Colin Van Ostern, the Democrat. The margin stands in that race was around 17,000 votes with 93 percent in. Chris Sununu certainly had a name–id edge; his father was governor, his brother was U.S. Senator. But Colin Van Ostern had more money –- he outraised Sununu 2 to 1 --  and more organizing help from advocacy groups: Planned Parenthood and certainly labor unions. Sununu’s win is the first Republican in a race for the corner office since Craig Benson won in 2002.  So, he broke a streak of Democrats in the corner office, and like Kelly Ayotte, Sununu did well in Republican towns. He kept Van Ostern’s margins relatively close in Manchester; Van Ostern won big in Concord and Hanover. But Sununu won Rochester. At 42, Sununu is going to be the nation’s youngest governor; Van Ostern would have been even younger. This was a race Democrats thought they would win, and there was some grumbling from Republicans prior to last night that Sununu’s campaign had been lackluster and not as high metabolism as the Democrats. But his strategists believe he just connected better with people and came across as more authentic than Colin Van Ostern.  But again, Trump appears to have made a difference here.

And how about the congressional races?

Well, Democrats won both. In the second district Annie Kuster was expected to cruise last night, but Republican Jim Lawrence, who wasn't really running much of a campaign by the end of it, kept it very close, coming within 12,000 votes with 91 percent in, which is remarkable given the district and given the advantages Kuster had in terms of money and name i.d.

And again, do you think Trump is seen as a factor in that?

Well, you'd have to see it that way. The second district does tilt Democratic. Kuster's not seen as a world-beating incumbent, but no one – Republicans or Democrats I talked to – saw her as very vulnerable. Certainly they weren't dumping money into that race. And Republicans said last night they hoped to get voters out of Grafton and Sullivan counties generally, which are in the 2nd CD, and one top party official told me he believed the party had too long ceded to Democrats. Perhaps Jim Lawrence is a beneficiary of that, but you have to understand, his performance surprised everyone, and perhaps its relevant that Lawrence – unlike Kelly Ayotte, unlike Chris Sununu – really embraced Donald Trump from the very start.

And Frank Guinta in the first CD, he lost to Carol Shea-Porter.

Guinta did, so Carol Shea-Porter's going to be back in, and Guinta and Shea-Porter are now each 2 and 2 lifetime in their four meetings. Shea-Porter’s margin was a little over 5,000 votes, so tight. Independent Shawn O’Connor pulled 33,000 votes, so he was a factor in this race, as he wanted to be. Hard to know if he pulled more support from Guinta or Shea-Porter, but the number is what it is.

And the State House races, we're looking at a lot there. Any chance that we've got a recount in any of that?

The GOP held the state Senate, which was the big story out of last night and the State House. Also the House and the Executive Council. So, again, we'll have full GOP control in Concord for the first time since the 2002 election. And in the Senate, democrats appear to have picked up one seat, District 16. That’s Bow, Hooksett, Candia, Dunbarton and parts of Manchester. And the GOP held onto other seats – on the Seacoast, in the New London area, in Nashua and Hollis -- that Democrats were targeting. And Republican candidate Harold French narrowly edged incumbent democrat Andrew Hosmer in District 7, which fans south out of Laconia. The margin there was just 17 out of nearly 28,000 votes cast, so expect a recount there.

Any chance of a recount in the US Senate race?

When margins are under 1.5 percent the law allows for recounts. So that’s possible, and maybe probable. Recounts in New Hampshire must be done by hand, so it will be a spectacle if it happens. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The race hasn’t been called yet.