Next week, a special election for one of New Hampshire’s 24 state senate districts will be held. The district, District 16, formerly held by a Democrat won’t change the partisan makeup of the chamber. Republicans will hold a 14-10 majority even if they fail to gain the seat. But, the district’s results will tell us much about Republicans can expect to spare in districts that intersect with Obama/Trump “pivot” counties next year.
Now, for some background. The district had a GOP Senator representing it since 1970. Until last year when then candidate Scott McGilvray won the open seat by two points. The district voted for Hillary Clinton by .3 percent at the same time. McGilvray is leaving the seat and former state senator David Boutin is vying for his old seat against Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh.
New Hampshire is an interesting state. From the 70’s to the 90’s the “Live free or die” state was a Republican bastion. But, since 1992 the state has backed Democratic Presidential candidates in every election except 2000.
Since the 90s an equilibrium in power at the state level has occurred. Democrats, until last year, held the Governorship for all of two years in the last twenty (meaning they have won nine of the last 11 gubernatorial elections). Yet, short of 2007-2010 the GOP has held at least one chamber of the legislature. Now, for the first time in the state’s history its federal delegation is completely made up of Democrats while all the levers of power in the state are held by Republicans.
Legislative special elections this year have not gotten nearly as much attention as Congressional contests. So far, this year, 34 special legislative elections have been held. Republicans flipped a conservative seat in Louisiana while Democrats have flipped a swing New Hampshire house seat, a blue-collar formerly Republican assembly district in NY state and two suburban districts in Oklahoma. Unsurprisingly, while Democrats have so far outrun Clinton in legislative special elections they have done best in Oklahoma (run by an unpopular GOP Governor) and flipped swingy districts in NY and NH. Republicans have held easily seats in Connecticut where the Democratic controlled legislature and Governor cannot even agree on a simple budget.
These results suggest state dynamics matter more than Trump’s popularity. However, such a proposition will be seriously tested in this near dead even district. It will be hard for Republicans to ignore the results of this election if a popular, former state senator loses the seat. If Boutin wins, a pro-union Republican, it would indicate smart GOP incumbents can weather the Trump backlash. But, if he loses, and GOP turnout is depressed, Republicans will need to start acknowledging unless things change in DC they will be in serious trouble.
Democrats are undoubtedly more excited about this contest than Republicans. The GOP will still strongly control the chamber regardless of the result and Boutin would not help the party advance some of its goals such as right to work legislation. Democrats also view many down-ballot contests such as these as precursors to 2018. State Republicans want to win this but may find enthusiasm is lacking due to Trump and the opposition he has inspired.
In the end, whatever happens next Tuesday won’t change much in Granite state politics. Or the nation’s. But it could be a precursor to a big shake-up at the federal level next year.