By the time her victory over Ovide Lamontagne in the 2012 governor's race was in the books, Maggie Hassan had raised more than $1.9 million in contributions from some 7,550 individual donors.
But Hassan's road to the corner office was paved predominantly by a handful of political groups that combined to spend more than five times as much as the Democratic candidate's official campaign.
The so-called independent groups, which are prohibited from coordinating their activities with candidates, pumped more than $11 million into the gubernatorial race on Hassan's behalf, expenditures that paid for everything from pro-Maggie yard signs, T-shirts and web sites to anti-Ovide television and radio ads.
Lamontagne, who raised just less than $1.9 million from individual donors during the campaign, also received a lot of outside help. The Live Free PAC, an affiliate of the Republican Governors Association, spent almost $8 million, nearly all of it on television commercials that attacked Hassan's record in the state Senate.
All told, outside groups invested more than $19 million in the 2012 race — or 82 percent of the almost $23 million spent — helping to make it the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in New Hampshire history.
Lamontagne readily attributed his loss to the influence of outside groups. In his concession speech, he lamented the "weeks of those negative attack ads," most of which were funded by the Washington, D.C.-based Democratic Governor's Association.
The DGA spent almost $7.9 million during the general election, including $4.7 million on TV commercials, according to campaign-finance reports. The DGA also gave about $2.7 million to the New Hampshire Democratic Party, which spread it around for various "Get Out the Vote" activities, including advertising, direct mail, yard signs and polling.
Mark Giangreco, a DGA spokesman, said the nearly $8 million investment in New Hampshire was the largest ever nationwide for the group. The goal, he said in an email, was to overcome what he called the state's "rightward tilt" following the 2010 elections by defining Lamontagne as "an extremist with misguided positions far outside the mainstream who would move the state backwards."
The DGA went to work early. Two days after Hassan beat Jackie Cilley in the Sept. 11 primary, a DGA-funded political committee, the New Hampshire Freedom Fund, launched a 30-second spot that linked Lamontagne to the Tea Party's "extreme" views on Medicare, abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
The media buy helped soften the blow from $500,000 worth of anti-Hassan ads produced by the Live Free PAC. But it also allowed Hassan, who had just $16,000 left after the primary, to get a running start on the general election, says Lamontagne's senior campaign advisor Jim Merrill.
"There's no question that coming out of a tough primary, when she had very little money, they really helped keep her afloat during that critical time and really carried her message for her," he says.
Hassans's message — and the DGA's — also dovetailed with the interests of organized labor and female voters who support education and abortion rights.
Motivated by Lamontagne's support for right-to-work legislation, two of the country's largest unions launched a series of ads that ran during the final three weeks of the campaign.
Service Employees International Union funded a $650,000 ad buy that featured rank-and-file SIEU members calling Lamontagne "radically wrong" for New Hampshire. The SEIU also invested $475,000 on direct mail and voter-canvassing efforts.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents public-sector workers, spent $750,000 to produce "Costs Us," a 30-second spot that warned Lamontagne would cut the minimum wage and reject federal funding for schools.
The NEA Advocacy Fund, a super PAC that represents the interests of unionized teachers, also got involved, spending $436,000 on television and digital ads and direct mail.
While Lamontagne strived to keep social issues like abortion out of the campaign, Hassan's independent supporters refused to play along.
Women Vote!, a Super PAC created by Emily's List to support pro-choice candidates, spent $550,000 on Hassan's behalf. Within days of the primary, the group launched a web site, newhampshirewomen.org, and a Facebook page that attracted 17,000 followers. The PAC also sent out 51,000 pieces of direct mail targeting pro-choice women voters, and in October, it invested in television and radio ads that highlighted Hassan's position on abortion rights and education.
Lamontagne spent slightly more on campaign-funded television ads than his opponent — $555,000 to Hassan's $505,000, according to campaign finance records. But, while Hassan was reaping the benefits of a broad political coalition, Lamontagne was relying largely on the Republican Governors Association.
In the last days of the campaign, New Hampshire Citizens for a Stronger Economy, a state PAC, funded a web ad and statewide radio ad buy, but the RGA was the only outside group to fund major media buys on Lamontagne's behalf.
The RGA's campaign to label Hassan as a tax-and-spend liberal no doubt resonated with many Republicans. But another ad, launched three weeks before the election, that attacked Hassan for not paying property taxes on the "half-million dollar home" she shares with her husband, Tom, principal of Phillips Exeter Academy, was controversial. It earned a "Mostly False" rating from Politifact, which pointed out the house is owned by Exeter and that school policy requires Tom Hassan to live there.
Meanwhile, other independent groups aligned with the GOP, such as American Crossroads and American for Prosperity, which were investing in state-level races elsewhere, never stepped up in New Hampshire. Nor did socially-conservative political groups such as the National Organization for Marriage, which had vowed last spring that its members would pony up to elect a Republican candidate who would help overturn New Hampshire's same-sex marriage law.
"I was a little surprised there wasn't more outside support [for Lamontagne], but in retrospect it makes sense," said Kathy Sullivan, a co-chair of Hassan's campaign, in an email. "The internal polling that the Republicans did must have shown what the other polling was showing consistently — Maggie with a steady, solid lead. Even groups with bushels of money don't want to waste it on a race they don't think they can win."
Merrill said the RGA was "tremendously helpful" to Lamontagne's campaign, and that the candidate was especially pleased with the support of individual donors. And while Merrill acknowledged that the "vested interests" that backed Hassan were a factor in the outcome of the election, it wasn't the only reason for her 12-point win.
"I don't think anyone, including me, is going to blame an election victory or loss on any one issue," he said. "There were a number of issues at play."