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The Palin-Steele Roadshow
09-30-2010
You may have seen the announcement earlier today that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is scheduled to do two big fundraisers for the Republican National Committee with Chairman Michael Steele. Whenever Palin is even remotely connected to RNC activities, observers inevitably question whether in doing so she is somehow compromising her cherished maverick credentials and risking damage to her political persona.  Both have been essential to her tremendous success as a political celebrity and to her rise as a leader of the tea party movement.
 
I’m assuming these folks have not forgotten that Palin has already been the official vice presidential nominee of the Republican Party, which no doubt came with a fair bit of access to RNC institutional elites built into the gig. But more importantly, as I argued in a post back in April, my sense is that Palin sees her ability to bridge both the party’s institutional infrastructure and its populist tendencies on the right as being critical to amassing political power. It’s what led Palin to endorse a Republican institutional favorite like Kelly Ayotte in our U.S. Senate race, and it's why Palin has previously argued that the tea party movement should work to transform the Republican Party from the inside out.
 
Palin’s ability to work both sides of this institutional-populist divide is key for her ability to harness movement conservatism to any future national political ambitions she might have. If anything, overcoming the skepticism of institutional elites in the party is her biggest challenge going forward. These fundraisers, just like her earlier defense of a besieged Chairman Steele, fit neatly into that strategy.
 
Note: Back posting on Monday. -Dean
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Lynch Lays In
09-29-2010
If you caught me as a guest Tuesday morning on WKXL Radio’s New Hampshire Now, you know that we did a brief preview of that day's gubernatorial debate at Saint Anselm College. I thought that Governor Lynch might very well attempt to stay above the fray in the debate, in order to avoid giving Republican nominee John Stephen any opportunities to hit back hard. One of Lynch’s strengths over the years has been his ability to inhabit the position of chief executive with only minimal recourse to rancorous partisan discourse, a political skill which has helped him garner continued support among moderates, and even some Republicans.
 
In this context, I thought Lynch might focus primarily on an optimistic message about how the Granite State has faired much better than other states during the recent economic difficulties, and leave frontal attacks on the Stephen campaign to various political surrogates. Instead, Governor Lynch actually went after John Stephen early and aggressively in the debate. While some will argue that Lynch was simply defending himself against Stephen’s opening attack, this sort of engagement brings back memories of a Democratic challenger who went straight at incumbent Governor Craig Benson in 2004. We certainly know that Lynch is capable of hitting hard, even if it hasn’t defined most of his time in office.
 
I think a couple of factors help to explain Lynch’s willingness to lay into Stephen yesterday. With no serious primary challengers, Stephen has spent most of the past year relentlessly pounding the governor and his administration. This has no doubt exacerbated an already antagonistic relationship between the two camps. As a result, I wasn’t surprised to see the Lynch campaign directly question Stephen’s character in its first general election ad. Lynch is also likely feeling a little political heat from all of the attention the race is starting to receive from the Republican Governors Association and from various Republican presidential hopefuls with significant national visibility. Finally, while Stephen is still trailing in the polls, he is closer than other previous general election challengers have gotten to Lynch, and this is in an electoral climate that has most Democratic incumbents on edge.
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Thune Soon?
09-28-2010
At this still reasonably early point in the next presidential election cycle, candidate preference polling typically produces a rank ordering of the usual suspects – candidates who have already run in the previous presidential election and lost, and other political elites with longstanding visibility (and name recognition) in the party. So, in the race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, most polls offer small variations on a list that includes Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. These four politicians are usually the only ones in or close to double digits, with a few others like Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum much closer to zero.
 
At the same time, we often hear political observers say that the next primary cycle is more likely to be driven by someone who has not yet figured into the presidential polling mix. Two names that often arise when I talk informally with others are Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and South Dakota Senator John Thune. I’ll save a potential Daniels run for another post, but a new profile of John Thune by Mike Allen at Politico.com suggests that the senator is indeed now ramping up for a presidential run in 2012. Thune’s entry into the race would certainly have the potential to change the current frontrunner dynamic, although it would no doubt take him some time to break into those ranks.
 
Almost a year ago I wrote a post about Thune called If the Suit Fits. The occasion was, not surprisingly, an earlier profile of the senator by Jonathan Martin at Politico.com also raising the issue of a presidential bid. My argument in the post was that in many respects Thune is well-suited to go up against President Obama – in terms of his age, physical appearance, telegenic presence, policy experience, etc. Thune is essentially a white conservative evangelical version of Obama, and thus someone who could provide a very interesting counterpoint to his candidacy in a general election. It is of course still early, and the Politico piece notes that Thune has several obstacles to overcome in launching a bid. But he certainly has the potential to make the usual suspects a little uncomfortable.
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Fall Forward
09-23-2010
I have to step away from the website for a few days, but will be back with new content for you on Tuesday, September 27th. You can also catch me Tuesday morning as a guest on New Hampshire Now at 10 a.m. on WKXL Concord News Radio (103.9 FM, 1450 AM, and on the web). We'll be discussing the latest developments in all of the key statewide general election match-ups. You can usually count on at least one of the major candidates calling in for an interview segment during the show. Last week it was Republican gubernatorial candidate John Stephen, so we’ll see who Chris Ryan and Frank Alosa have up their sleeves for next week. I’m looking forward to it. See you soon. -Dean
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Please RSVP to Ovide
09-22-2010
You may have seen this little item today reporting on a scheduled Republican fundraiser for Senate nominee Kelly Ayotte to be hosted by none other than Ovide Lamontagne, the primary opponent she defeated by about 1600 votes a little more than a week ago. I have been especially interested to see the amount of attention the announcement has garnered in the national press. Given the continuing animosity between Republican Senate primary opponents in places like Alaska and Delaware, I guess there is some surprise out there that Ovide would be willing to host this event for Ayotte.
 
Well, there shouldn’t be. That sort of vindictiveness doesn’t appear to be part of Ovide’s political make-up. In fact, I predicted to friends early on that Lamontagne would not ask for a recount of the final primary tally. Despite statements by him that he is a conservative first and a Republican second, Ovide seems like a party guy. Hosting the fundraiser also keeps him relevant in the race in a way that might even allow him to influence the political discourse a bit. I was surprised, however, to learn that the fundraiser is being held in Washington.  Given Lamontagne’s publicly-stated aversion to taking up residence in that town, you would think that he’d make them hold the event closer to home.
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Huckabee and Palin Again
09-21-2010
I have written previously about the evolving, sometimes adversarial relationship between former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Their respective presidential ambitions aside, each politician has a vested interest in being seen as a leader of the many social and religious conservatives who are politically active around the country. Whatever their personal motivations, there is no denying that this has been a lucrative pursuit for both of them (book deals, Fox News gigs, speaking fees, etc.). But as each one seeks to consolidate the Republican base to his or her advantage around the 2010 midterms and eventually the 2012 presidential election, it is clear that each may end up doing so at the other’s political expense.
 
Huckabee continues to poll higher than Palin in most Republican presidential surveys, at or near the top of the heap in fact. But I’ve previously noted that this circumstance hasn’t stopped him from exhibiting curiously passive-aggressive behavior in response to the tremendous media buzz that Palin seems to evoke with her every move. An interesting piece over at Politico.com today takes a closer look at this relationship, and combs their respective 2010 endorsement behavior for clues as to whether it may turn increasingly conflictual as we head toward 2012. Not surprisingly, both camps downplay the idea of any conflict between the two ex-governors, but this relationship could quickly become a central storyline in the run-up to the 2012 Iowa Caucus.
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Conservatively Speaking
09-17-2010
In reflecting on the campaign rhetoric employed by state primary candidates over the past year, I am only slightly exaggerating when I say that if I had a dollar for every time a Republican hopeful used a variant of the word conservative, I would now be comfortably ensconced in a luxurious retirement community in Scottsdale (or maybe Key West). With a number approaching two dozen politicians running for major statewide office on the Republican ballot on Tuesday, we are talking about a tidy little nest egg for yours truly.
 
It is true there was some variation among the candidates on social issues like abortion and gay marriage, but the past year has in general been a contest to see which Republican could talk the toughest (and most conservatively) about kicking the collective behind of Congress. This was fairly predictable from a political discourse perspective, as there is a long tradition of candidates running to the right in Republican primaries. The contests often become a battle among candidates to be seen as the true conservative in whichever primary field they are competing.
 
But there was also a time last year when newly-minted Republican nominee Kelly Ayotte was thought to hold out the potential for a classic New Hampshire center-right coalition of independents and Republicans. The question now is whether her hard drive to the right during the primaries has boxed her into a corner ideologically, and perhaps created some space for her opponent Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes to paint her as more extreme than might have otherwise been the case. Of course, given the close finish we just saw with Ovide Lamontagne, the coalitional strategy might not have been a realistic option for her, anyway.
 
So, we shall see whether Ayotte adapts her conservative rhetoric for the general election. I think everyone (including Hodes) will be running hard right on federal spending and deficits. But there is a distinct language that conservatives use when running within a Republican primary that doesn’t always translate well to the general election, and we've heard plenty of it over the past year. In the coming weeks, I’ll be listening closely to hear whether any of the Republican nominees do indeed adopt a more general election-friendly political discourse.
 
Note: Back posting on Tuesday.
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Frontrunners Redux (Do Campaigns Matter?)
09-16-2010
I spent some time yesterday going back over my posts from last fall, when the state primary cycle that just concluded on Tuesday was first beginning to take shape. If you had asked me back then (and some did) to name the frontrunner in each of the contested primaries, I would have given you the following list: Lynch, Stephen, Ayotte, Guinta, Kuster, and Bass. In fact, my hunch is that this is the same list that most political observers would have provided, if asked to do so.
 
A year later the verdict is finally in, and the list of winners is, well, exactly the same. This circumstance has returned me once again to a fundamental question that political scientists have grappled with for many years: Do campaigns matter? Given how much blood, sweat, and tears (and money in some cases) the campaigns and their volunteers have expended over the past twelve months, one would certainly hope (as I do) that the answer to this question is yes.
 
But the winner in each case was the candidate who entered the race with the highest name recognition (except maybe Kuster), strongest institutional position, and deepest organizational roots – precisely the structural political features that made them frontrunners in the first place. In the end, whether or not they ran the strongest primary campaign was not the determining factor. I have yet to meet any political observer who believes that Kelly Ayotte ran a strong primary campaign, and my sense is that Annie Kuster would have won her primary even without running what was by all accounts a smart campaign.
 
So, I’m left still trying to figure out what role campaigns played (or could have played) in the drama we just witnessed. I understand that they can play an important informational role for some voters, and I would probably buy into the argument that campaigns can have an effect on electoral outcomes at the margins.  But the combination of structural political features and electoral conditions in our state’s political environment sure seemed to give that list of frontrunners an insurmountable advantage in the primaries.
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Re-wrapped
09-15-2010
If you haven’t already reached your personal saturation point with state primary coverage, I encourage you to check out the podcast of this morning’s Exchange show on New Hampshire Public Radio wrapping up all of the state primary election results. In addition to breaking down the results, we discussed how the general election campaign is likely to take shape in the coming weeks. You can listen to the broadcast here.
 
I will be back tomorrow with new content for you. I’m still reflecting on what the past 24 hours means going forward. I’ll address that question in the next couple of posts.
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Primary Coverage
09-13-2010
I will be doing a fair bit of live commentary and analysis over the next two days. You can catch me both Tuesday and Wednesday mornings as a guest on New Hampshire Now (10 a.m., WKXL AM 1450 and FM 103.9, and on the web here).
 
Primary night, I will be doing analysis throughout the evening for New Hampshire Public Radio. Live coverage begins at 8 p.m. (on the web here). I’ll also be back on NHPR Wednesday morning for a special post-election edition of The Exchange. You can listen live at 9 a.m. here, or catch the podcast later here.
 
For those of you who prefer me in written form, I’ll be back to my regular posting schedule for the rest of the week.
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Yes, There Really Are Gubernatorial Primaries Next Week
09-09-2010
I hope you enjoyed the WMUR-TV Live Wire web event last night. I had a great time live-blogging the two Second Congressional District primary debates, and appreciate the positive response from those of you who participated.
 
Instead of my usual posting tomorrow, I will be back for another WMUR-TV Live Wire event, this time live-blogging the Republican gubernatorial primary debate. You can join in by going to www.wmur.com shortly before the debate starts at 7 p.m., and clicking on the large Live Wire banner at the top of the page. The link will take you to the event site, where you’ll once again be able to watch the debate streaming live over the web, while reading my real-time analysis and adding your own comments and questions. Hope to see you there.
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I'm a Real Live Wire
09-08-2010
Instead of my usual posting today, I will be live-blogging both of tonight’s Second Congressional District primary debates for WMUR-TV, and you can participate in this innovative Live Wire event, as well. You’ll be able to watch both debates over the web, while reading my real-time analysis of the proceedings on the same page. You’ll also have an opportunity to post your own comments and to submit your questions to me throughout the evening.
 
To participate in the Live Wire chat, just go to www.wmur.com shortly before the 7 p.m. start time for the first debate (Republican), and click on the large Live Wire banner at the top of the page. The link will take you to the Live Wire website, where you can watch the debates and join in the chat. Hope to see you there tonight. I’ll also be live-blogging the Republican gubernatorial debate on Friday evening at 7 p.m.
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A Governor Named John
09-07-2010
You can catch me as a guest tomorrow morning on New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange. We will be taking a close look at the state’s two upcoming gubernatorial primaries, and previewing what a potential John Lynch – John Stephen match-up might look like this fall. You can hear the show live at 9 a.m. here (top menu), or listen to the podcast later here.
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There's No Place Like Home
09-02-2010
Every four years during the presidential primaries, we hear about how desperate states are to get the kind of national attention that goes along with playing a high-profile role in the presidential selection process. Some new data suggest, however, that the one caveat to this predictable behavior is when that role involves a state’s homegrown political talent. For Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, this means that a majority of his state’s voters do not approve of his busy schedule of invisible primary activities in places like New Hampshire and Iowa. For former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, it means that her fellow Alaskans would prefer former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee in 2012.
 
I remember a similar phenomenon in late 2002, when Howard Dean was the sitting governor of Vermont, and was first exploring a potential bid for the Democratic nomination for president in 2004. I recall hearing a great deal of criticism from within the state about his busy national travel schedule and frequent absences from Montpelier. Granted, some of this kind of local political pushback is likely the work of partisan opponents within a particular state, and a longstanding familiarity with a politician can also change voter perspective over time.
 
But this phenomenon of local disapproval of presidential ambition clearly has something to do with the setting of in-state priorities by chief executives, especially with sitting governors at the end of their final term in office, like Pawlenty and Dean. In Palin’s case, she is already a private citizen, having resigned her office in July 2009. But the continued impact of her 2008 vice presidential run and newfound national celebrity seems to be playing out as the same sort of mixed bag for her fellow Alaskans.
 
Note: Have a safe and enjoyable Labor Day weekend. I’ll see you back here on Tuesday for the final sprint to our state primaries. -Dean
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Ponzi Politics
09-01-2010
I’ve had some requests in the past 24 hours for my reaction to the release of the draft legislative panel report on the Financial Resources Mortgage scandal, and in particular, questions about whether its criticism of former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte is a serious problem for her U.S. Senate campaign, just two weeks before the Republican primary. As I said yesterday shortly after the draft became public, this couldn’t have come at a worse time (or a more suspicious one, according to Ayotte supporters) for her candidacy. It will certainly give both her potential Democratic opponent, Rep. Paul Hodes, and the other Republican rivals a renewed opportunity to question her leadership ability. The media will also continue to explore all possible angles on the story right up until ballots are cast, which will keep it highly visible in the public discourse surrounding the race.
 
But the report mainly paints a larger picture of systemic governmental failure in dealing with fraud cases, complete with overlapping and conflicting bureaucratic jurisdictions. Ayotte is singled out and assigned at least some of the blame for this in the FRM case. The question for me is whether voters will see this episode primarily as a failure of Ayotte’s leadership, or instead as a more general institutional design failure of the sort we see in government all too frequently. With no new revelations to detail in the report, the Democratic-led investigative committee is essentially left to level anew prior criticism first heard during Ayotte’s public testimony last spring. The report’s content and timing are therefore ripe for the inevitable charges of politicization. My sense is that none of it will fundamentally alter the arc of the scandal story, or Ayotte’s role in it. Since it didn’t derail her candidacy in June, my guess is that it probably won’t now.
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